Seven Time-Management Tips To Lower Your Stress

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Dr Ottilia Brown

Seven Time-Management Tips To Lower Your Stress

Posted 28 Oct 2018


Dr. Ottilia Brown

Seven Time-Management Tips To Lower Your Stress
How often have you sat in traffic willing the car in front of you to go faster as you nervously glance at the time on your dashboard? Or found yourself counting the number of people in the queue and changing from one queue to the next as you aim to join the fastest queue? Have you found yourself using phrases like: ‘I am so disorganised’ or ‘I need 25 hours in a day’? We are all feeling the time pinch. Time has become an incredibly valuable commodity. Time poverty is a known problem in our society and time itself is central to many stress-related problems. We do however have more control than we think. It may be helpful for us to take a closer look at some common time errors:
  • Irrational beliefs about time… based on my last two blogs, you are now well-versed in unhelpful thoughts and the role they can play in experiencing stress. These thoughts are underpinned by irrational beliefs that we hold about things. Some examples of irrational beliefs about time include, ‘I must always be productive’; ‘I can only have fun when I have ticked all the tasks on my list’; ‘I cannot delegate as no-one will be able to perform these tasks to my standards’; ‘I feel upset and anxious when I have not finished a task’; ‘Engaging in downtime will waste precious time when I could have been getting things done’.
  • Procrastination… actively avoiding difficult tasks and deliberately finding distractions. Some will claim that they work better under pressure, others will say they do not feel like doing the task or that its boring or a waste of time. These excuses are often important clues about the underlying causes of procrastination. The need to do things perfectly all the time and the fear of failure could be underlying reasons for procrastination. Sometimes we prefer to work on easier tasks first as these will deliver more immediate rewards. Giving in to distractions can swallow chunks of time that later cannot be accounted for. Sometimes if there is uncertainty about how to start a task or if the task requires hard work there may also be a tendency to delay doing it.  
  • Multitasking… is a myth. The unconscious mind that helps us with ongoing processes like breathing and food digestion and where other tasks like eating and dressing are stored, is constantly working in tandem with or multitasking with the conscious mind. The conscious mind manages tasks that are less automatic and require concentration and focus. It is when we are doing tasks that require conscious processing that multitasking becomes a problem.  Essentially, our brains have to switch between the rules of the different tasks when we attempt to do more than one thing at a time. This means that we are task switching instead of multitasking. Task switching can slow down productivity by up to 40%, negatively affects our ability to retain new information, and can also result in making more mistakes. 
  • Poor planning… when there is much to do, and an actual plan has not been designed to get through everything, something important may be forgotten or precious time could be wasted on low priority tasks. Haphazardly approaching tasks can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety and can result in feeling overwhelmed. Lack of planning could also result in taking on too much without prioritising tasks. The frenzy of being busy may feel like a lot is getting done but the efficient use of time and energy resources is debatable.
  • Hurry sickness… or chronic time urgency is marked by continual rushing and feelings of urgency and includes the performance of tasks, often multiple ones, as fast as possible. This fast-paced frenzy may be accompanied by anxiety and high stress levels especially if delays arise. Technology fuels this hurry sickness as now we have instant access to everything via our mobiles meaning that we can do all things all the time. 

Now for the good stuff, how can we manage our time resources better?

  1. Examine irrational beliefs about time. Identify unhelpful thoughts in relation to time and how these thoughts affect levels of stress and possibly induce anxiety. Using the techniques described in the blog entitled Taking Stock of Your Stress Coping Toolkit, challenge these thoughts and develop alternatives that are solution-focused as opposed to stress inducing.
  2. Prioritise. Set personal goals and identify short-term and long-term goals. These goals can direct actions and decisions regarding what time should be spent on. Make a to-do list. Be specific and break down larger tasks into smaller achievable tasks if need be. There are many prioritising systems available that help with organising tasks in order of importance and/or urgency. The ABC technique where A is for tasks that must get done, B is for tasks that are important but can receive attention after the A’s are done, and C are for tasks that can wait a day or two, is an example of this. 
  3. Scheduling tasks once they have been prioritised is an important next step as this ensures that enough time is availed to achieve short-term goals. Having a diary system will help with instilling a sense of personal control. Be realistic with what is achievable when doing scheduling and watch out for those unrealistic expectations of self and irrational beliefs about time. Scheduling tasks according to how much energy and focus they require according to our own rhythms of high and low energy times can significantly improve time management.
  4. Focus your efforts. Break larger tasks into smaller ones and tackle smaller tasks one by one until the list is cleared. Working in chunks of time has been proven to be a helpful strategy when needing to focus intensively. Setting a phone alarm or downloading useful apps that have these functions can be helpful.
  5. Manage distractions. Identify sources of distraction and interruption and manage time wasters effectively. Simple things like using social media too frequently during the day can eat into time needed for important tasks. Have clear available and unavailable times. Having blocks of uninterrupted time where possible can help with managing unnecessary distractions. 
  6. Know your limits. Saying ‘NO’ is an important part of effective time management. When you are already overloaded, and the demands keep coming, take a step back, look at your schedule and evaluate whether you can realistically take more on. If not, tactfully and assertively decline requests on the proviso that you will re-evaluate these as your time availability changes.   
  7. Take breaks. No matter how heavy the time demands are, you have to schedule some downtime. Taking small breaks, making time for exercise, relaxation and time with loved ones, and taking a break from screens helps with rebooting our minds and bodies and injects the necessary energy to complete tasks more efficiently in their allotted time. 

Managing our time more effectively will significantly contribute to improved feelings of coping and personal control which in turn will decrease stress levels and aid improved mental health and wellbeing. Take time today to understand your relationship with time and make the necessary improvements to that relationship! 

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Michelle says:

49 years 5 months ago

charles_333 says:

6 months 3 weeks ago
Spot on. All seems so straight forward but actually very challenging to put into practice.
Dr Ottilia Brown

Dr Ottilia Brown says:

6 months 3 weeks ago
Dear Charles. Thank you for your comment. So true.. changing behaviours is tough. My previous blog on popping a healthy dose of realism into our coping toolkits tries to unpack some of the complexities of changing entrenched behaviours. Wishing you well, Ottilia

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