April is Stress Awareness Month (who knew?). I am a bit surprised that we need a special month to highlight stress. It seems like stress is front and center in our lives on a daily basis. In addition, there is a huge anti-stress industry out there that bombards us with options and products from massages to gyms to meditation to essential oils.
There are many causes of stress — financial stress, relationship stress, and work stress are big ones. Often stress in one area compounds stress in another. Much of the stress we face has to do with time pressure, and most people feel they never have enough hours in the day.
We all probably have enough time. We simply overlook ourselves and fritter away time small chunk by small chunk. Think how easy it is to spend 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there checking text messages or surfing the web. In contrast, think how hard it is to use the “do not disturb” feature on your computer when you are trying to finish a work project.
There is not much new regarding time management. The old tricks still apply—things like if the task will take less than 5 minutes, do it immediately. Do NOT put it on your to do list. Or, learn to say “no” to that drink after work or attending the third charity event in a month. Plan your schedule so that you are always punctual. Being late for one thing usually makes you late for the next. This keeps pushing up your stress level as you feel more and more rushed and unprepared.
Get up half an hour earlier. Plan your morning so you don’t waste time looking for your phone or car keys or commuter pass. Use your calendar more effectively to group personal tasks like picking up your dry-cleaning and stopping at the pharmacy on your way home from work so you don’t have to spend Saturday morning doing errands.
Then there are all those things your mother suggested. Things like putting used dishes in the dishwasher as soon as you are done with them. Hanging up your clothes so they don’t need to be dry cleaned so frequently. If you make a mess, clean it up immediately. You know them all. Why don’t you use them? It probably isn’t that you don’t have enough time.
Too often we confuse artificial business with actually being busy. We also confuse stress with avoidance, inertia, even laziness.
As Stress Awareness Month comes to a close, make an effort to actually evaluate your stress. Eliminate the unnecessary stress, the mind clutter, the disorganization, and the small time eaters. With stress, small reductions can have surprisingly big payoffs.