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Life is easy but responsibility is hard: 5 ways to reduce stress

Reduce Stress by handling responsibility
Reduce Stress by handling responsibilityhttp://www.smead.com/hot-topics/get-organized-1002.asp

I just finished an amazing / stress free vacation weekend up in the mountains of Colorado and came back to a stressful Sunday night. We had issues with our child care provider for the next week and my wife and I both had to do at least an hour of work after we put our daughter to bed and all of this before the week even started.

Here are 5 things to help you deal with stress and also be more successful in life:

1. Decide if it is worth it
Movie stars, professional athletes, and CEOs live incredible lives but also have a lot of stress and make a lot of sacrifices. I am sure all of them have wanted less stressful lives at some point but ultimately they decide that they have a goal / purpose in life and that is more important than sleep, spending time with friends, family, etc.

If the job or project that is causing you stress is not going to help you achieve a goal that is important to you then make it easy – find another job, career, boss, etc. If it is worth it then read on.

2. Be Proactive / Responsible
Now that you are finished feeling sorry for how tough your life is you can think of how great your life will be when you succeed in your goal and get to work. When things are stressing you out and you don’t want to quit then the only way to relieve the stress is to take care business.

The 1st habit of Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is Be Proactive – Take initiative in life by realizing that your decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. Take responsibility for your choices and the consequences that follow and you will discover that the best course of action is to work as hard as you can to prepare for or complete the task that is stressing you out. Stop Procrastinating and wishing it would go away . Abraham Lincoln said it very well -

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

3. Make a to do list and prioritize the most import things
If you don’t make a list of everything that needs to get done then you will forget something. I find it best to create lists 1st thing in the morning or during boring meetings. Some people do it before they go to bed but it can stress you out and make it hard to sleep.

The next part is to prioritize things on the list. Set dates / goals to finish tasks because there is something amazing that happens when a deadline approaches and you find extra focus. You should be working on the highest priority / most critical tasks first. I am not sure why but a lot of people tend to always pick the easy tasks or most fun tasks first, which sets people up for failure and lots of stress on the most important deadlines.

Don’t check your email when you first come into work but instead cross off one important task first and when you do read email only skim for important emails from your boss or emails related to your high priority tasks / projects. There is some misconception that when you get an important email you need to respond right away – but in reality whoever sent it probably won’t check their email for a few hours.

Make choices to do certain things at certain times of the day. depending on if you are a morning person or night owl. Do intense work when you are most productive and mundane tasks when you are tired. Staff meetings, admin work, and emails are things that I schedule when I am tired so that I can work on more important tasks when I am at my best.

Before I learned how to prioritize work I used to always dream of all of the stuff I would do if I had an extra hour each day. I could sleep, work out, relax, or do anything I wanted. After prioritizing and doing the other things on this blog I feel that I have plenty of time. One thing that I do for fun now is take an hour at the end of the day to cross off as many admin / other tasks as I can.

4. Make extra time
If you have a big project that is stressing you out then reserve time to get stuff done outside of normal work hours. Wake Up Early, Stay up late, or work weekends – whatever works for you and your family’s schedule. The key in my mind for any long term success is the rest of your family is asleep or working at the time you chose.

There are tons of articles on the benefits of staying up late or waking up early. I tend to agree with the wake up early crowd – there is something calming about being more in tune with being awake when the sun is out and Ben Franklin had this famous quote -

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”

Be more efficient when you are outside of work. When you have a lot going on it is amazing how much time you can get by cutting out non important things like Facebook and TV. As a former consultant I always find ways to save 2-5 minutes on mundane tasks that I do every day. Here are a few suggestions –

  • Morning Tips – Shave every other day, only rinse once in shower, never use the snooze button, eat during your commute, work during your commute if possible, know which traffic lanes are the quickest at different times of the day and alternate routes if there is traffic
  • Meetings – delegate meetings that are not essential for you to attend, accomplish other tasks like email, updating your priority list or eating lunch during other meetings, which you are not an active participant
  • Lunch / Dinner – make extra dinner so that you can have leftovers
  • Monthly Chores - Don't fill up your gas until the warning light is on, delay tasks like cutting the grass, getting a haircut, etc as long as you can

5. Balance Work and Life
One of the most important ways to deal with stress is to choose the time to work hard and chose time to balance life based on what is most important at the time. If you are close to a promotion / have a big project or test then chose work. Once you hit the major milestone then take a vacation and recharge.

If you have a major life event like a wedding / baby coming or a big vacation coming then chose life and say no to new projects for a few months. When you are on vacation then do your best to forget about work.