About a month ago, I was sitting in front of my computer just staring at the screen.
I was feeling this big ball of stress in my stomach, and I couldn’t exactly place where it was coming from.
I had a lot on my plate, and knew that there were things I needed to do – yet all I was doing was sitting there, staring, and not making any progress on anything.
I honestly spent the better part of a day doing this, and that’s when I knew I needed to make a change – because this wasn’t exactly a one time thing.
I was stressed, I had a lot to do, yet I didn’t really have a solid idea of why I was stressed, or even what I should be prioritizing on my to do list.
So I took a step back and thought about this as objectively as possible.
The result is this blog post. For the last month I’ve been using this process to help manage my daily activities, as well as my stress and anxiety levels.
The key ingredient in why this is successful is because it actually has forced me to think about those things bubbling just below the surface – things that were taking up energy and brain space without me even realizing it.
With this 4 step process you’re going to learn how to better handle everything on your plate, and actually get more stuff done in the process.
I’ll be honest, it can be slightly overwhelming at first, and this strategy isn’t necessarily for everyone. But for me, it’s eased my sense of overwhelm, helped me get more stuff done on a daily and weekly basis, and added structure to giant mess of tasks and to do’s that previously had none.
Step 1: Create a Comprehensive List of Everything Stressing You Out
Ok, this might seem simple at first. But this is actually going to take you some time.
The only way to relieve stress is to become fully aware of all the places it’s coming from.
To do this, you should spend 30-60 minutes writing down a comprehensive list of everything stressing you out – big or small.
The key to this is to be as specific as possible.
For instance, I’m getting married in less than 3 weeks. My natural inclination would just be to write “wedding” on this list. But that isn’t very helpful is it?
Instead I should write out every aspect of the wedding that’s stressing me out:
- Still haven’t confirmed with the brewery how many kegs of beer we need
- Not sure if the bus we are using for a shuttle will fit enough people
- Self conscious about whether or not my shirt/suit will look good after gaining weight from bachelor party
You get the idea. The more specific you can get, the easier it becomes to solve the problem.
During this first step don’t worry about organization, prioritization or anything else. This should just be stream of consciousness – get everything out that you can.
The simplest way to begin easing stress, is to get all of it out of your head.
Also keep in mind as you spend more time on this list, your stress level may increase as you begin to see all the things on your mind – this is totally ok.
2) Organize Your List
Once you’ve got your list, you’ll probably continue to have things pop up, so always feel free to add to it.
But what good is a giant, overwhelming, stressful list, if you don’t have a plan of attack for it?
You now want to organize your list in two ways:
First, take everything and organize it by category. You should have some pretty clear themes by now, but here are some of mine:
- Location 180/Location Rebel
- Breaking Eighty/Golf
Second, organize the items in each category by order of stress level.
You should have a pretty good sense of which things are causing you the most panic and anxiety, put those at the top of the list.
Even if you did nothing more than steps one and two, you now have a very clear picture of the things that are causing you to feel stressed out.
But we want to take this a step farther, we want to eliminate the feeling over overwhelm altogether.
3) Assign an Action to Each Item
When assigning an action, the goal is to do something that will allow you to stop thinking about the stressor.
You need to assign one of three different items to each thing:
- Act – This is an action item you need to take. Ideally it’s something you do as soon as possible if not immediately.
- Delay – If there’s something that needs to get done, but either isn’t a priority or can’t get done yet for other reasons make a note to delay and a date you’re delaying it to. Put any of these on the calendar to review at your set time.
- Remove – Sometimes you can get rid of stress simply by making a conscious choice not to do anything.
Here are some examples:
Maybe you’ve had an issue with a friend, and rather than addressing it and causing a confrontation, you’ve done nothing due to concerns for what might happen.
Send an email, make a phone call, do whatever you have to do.
It might be uncomfortable during the process, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel once you get through it. It’s these personal issues that can often cause the most anxiety.
If you’re like me and run your own business, there’s a never-ending list of things that need to get done.
Before, that entire list would be a huge burden on me, with all of those tasks floating around in my head. Now, by making a conscious decision to delay until later, I can get them off my mind,
For instance, I’m working on a much more in depth and useful email follow up series for my newsletter.
Everyday when I didn’t make any progress on it, I’d feel stressed.
Once I started going through this process, I realized I could consciously make the decision to delay it and put it off.
This removed it from my day to day worries, because I’d made a decision about what to do with it.
Some things you might delay for a week, others could be a month.
Just make sure when the day comes to review again to make a choice about what to do it with it. Delay it again, or act.
I also try not to delay things more than 3 times in a row. If this is something you still consider a source of stress, eventually the act of delaying it will begin adding to the stress. So make sure you continue to make these things a priority when you review.
A few months ago I was thinking about joining a small national golf club for people that have an interest in playing architecturally significant golf courses (yeah I’m a nerd like that).
The annual dues weren’t huge, but there was an initiation fee that was not insignificant. For weeks I debated, went back and forth and didn’t take any action.
The reality is that either decision, yes or no, would remove the stress – but I just kept waffling on it.
I finally said, you know what, it’s not the right time for this, and I made the choice not to join.
Stress instantly gone.
Many of the things on your list can be solved simply by making a decision, any decision, about what to do.
4) Repeat Weekly
Over the course of a week, a lot can happen. New stressors will arise, and old ones will get handled or not seem so significant anymore.
I like to review and create a new list every Sunday when the craziness of the previous week has subsided, and things have yet to ramp up for the next one.
This helps me to be constantly aware of what’s causing me issues, and most importantly it allows me to get out of my own head about it, and add structure to a process that otherwise can become overwhelming and anxiety riddled.
A Quick Recap
Feeling less stressed yet?
The one big goal of this post is to help you get all of the things in your head that have no structure, on to a piece of paper where you can clearly see what’s causing you stress.
By following this simple 4 step process of:
- Make a list of everything stressing you out
- Organize the list
- Assign Action Items
- Repeat Weekly
You’ll not only find yourself getting more stuff done each week, but you’ll do so without becoming overwhelmed or overly stressed out in the process.
Do you have a technique that works for you for removing stress in your life? Share with us in the comments!
NOTE: My 500th Blog Post
This is my 500th blog post at Location 180. FIVE HUNDRED. I seriously can’t believe I’ve stuck with this long enough to hit such a big milestone.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this site and has continued to seek out a life that makes them happy.
This process I shared today has truly been one of the more impactful things I’ve done for my sanity over the last few years, so I hope it helps you as well.
Here’s to the next 500!
Image Credit: Stress from Big Stock