The Simple 4 Step Process For Managing Stress

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 08/25/15 •  8 min read

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:

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:

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:

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:

  1. Make a list of everything stressing you out
  2. Organize the list
  3. Assign Action Items
  4. 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

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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21 comments on "The Simple 4 Step Process For Managing Stress"

  1. Congrats on your 500th post man – awesome! Great approach here as well as far as effectively managing stress. The whole idea of getting out of my head and on paper is HUGE for me. Just that step alone makes me feel better. I like what you’ve laid out as well as effective next steps to take such as either act, delay, or remove. As always, great stuff here man (and helpful) – thanks!

    1. Sean says:

      Thanks Mike! Hard to believe I made it that far 🙂

      Getting it out of my head is the most important part – I’ve never been the best at doing that, so this has been one routine that’s been a bit of a revelation.

  2. benay says:

    Great tip Sean. I needed that this week! – B

    1. Sean says:

      Glad I could help! 🙂

  3. Lourdes says:

    Hi Sean,
    Thanks for sharing your method for Managing Stress. I like your detailed steps. Writing things down are always helpful for me and getting it done as scheduled is a real stress buster. I will start using your 4 Step Method.
    I use a “Today – To do List” , and it’s a great feeling when I take things off my list.

    Congrats on your 500th Blog Post – Wow! 🙂

  4. Martin says:


    That’s key. I do this with my inbox. I delete when I feel that I really can’t be bothered or won’t have the time for something.

  5. Viv says:

    Bit confused! Your step 3: “Remove – Sometimes you can get rid of stress simply by making a conscious choice not to do anything.” Doesn’t match with how you explain it later on- you took action on the golf club mmbership. So I’m not clear on how it’s different from “act,” as in that example-you made a decision. I started the process but really want to understand, can you clarify and perhaps clarify post?
    And congrats on upcoming nuptials!

  6. Mathew says:

    Congrats Sean on the 500th blog!
    I’m a Location Rebel Member and because of your blog it has given me the courage, support and guidance to move forward with my own business.
    Baby steps are taking place, but with the help of your community and the guidance of yourself, I know I am in safe hands……
    Love your work and your genuine, meaningful interest you take in others.
    Be great!

  7. Jo says:

    Sean, thanks – this came when I really needed it.
    Congrats on your blog milestone and also on the wedding. Hope it is your best day ever!

  8. Tess says:

    I am going to try this right now! I find reminding myself of my overall vision and purpose to be really helpful in relieving stress, and then taking ANY kind of action in alignment with that. Intention is very important for me. Your suggested method sounds like a really great and logical way to organize my stressed out brain, and I am very grateful for you sharing it 🙂

  9. Kent says:

    Is stress and overwhelm the same thing? I’m not sure but Peter Shallard (the shrink for entrepreneurs) once said something so insightful that I wrote it down and hung it on my wall. “Overwhelm is not stress or some disease. It is simply a signal from your unconscious mind that you *must* prioritize.” He went on to say that even the act of simply writing down the items that are causing you to feel overwhelmed is enough to significantly reduce the feeling, at least temporarily. I tried it when I was feeling overwhelmed and it worked for me.

    Also, congrats on the big 5-0-0! That is quite a milestone.

  10. Ralitsa says:

    Congrats on the 500th post, Sean! Definitely worth celebrating.

    I was so glad to get this in my mailbox today. I’ve been stressing about so many things and it’s always helped to write things down first — until the stress comes back again. Will give this approach a shot, it sure seems like a good plan of attack. 🙂

    Thanks for all the great stuff you post, too. Found out about your website through Karen Marston, so it’s been a pleasure reading such good stuff regularly.

  11. Sara Param says:

    Hi Sean
    Congratulations! on your 500th post.
    You are writing well with lots good advice I always take my time out to read your post.


  12. John Schnettgoecke says:

    Solid topic for #500, my man.

    Love the subject of this blog post…always interested in hearing how other young people deal with the s$!% storm that blows in on an almost daily basis. I’m a big list maker (if you’re an old school pen and paper guy like me, checkout, so I can definitely relate.

    I try to stick to the Pareto Principle as often as possible, which means I usually pick 2-4 REALLY important things I need to do each day. If I get those items done, I notice that my stress (usually) disappears. This doesn’t take external stressors into account, but trying to account for the unknown is a waste of time and energy. Control what you can control, get the important stuff done, then grab a beer.

    Congrats on #500, my friend!


  13. Sean, this post was immensely helpful. After reading this I finally took the time to write a 5 minute email about something that I had been stressed about all month. Now that it’s done I feel so much better. Thanks! Have a wonderful day.

  14. Ellen Bard says:

    Congrats on 500th post Sean, that is absolutely amazing.

    I enjoyed the post a lot, definitely a great way to get past overwhelm. I use a modified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, and I also find that if I separate out the ‘making a decision on what to do’ part from the ‘doing’ part, it makes a huge difference to my stress levels. When I try and do these at the same time it often results in overwhelm.

    I use scrivener to manage all my lists so I can flip between the different items I have. And when I’m really stressed, I go micro – ‘what’s the next best-action’ and do that. And then the next. I definitely need to say no to more and consciously remove some of the tasks on my list though…!

  15. First, congrats on the 500. Awesome commitment. I like what you wrote and find it helpful, and would add a few things:
    1) when you are upset (which is stressful) ask yourself “how important will this be in a year, in 6 months, in 3 months, in 1 month, in 2 weeks, and then at 5 pm today.” Aha, the moment of truth. Do you have your upset/stress or does it have you.

  16. Thanks for sharing your 500th! I already feel less stress!

  17. Kevin James McAuley says:

    Hi Sean,
    It has been a while since reading one of your blog posts. Congratulations on making the 500 post milestone and thanks for sharing. I was wondering if you use any tools for doing this. I just wrote out my list on a piece of paper but then got step 2 and organising on that was a bit tough. When you do this each week do you just use a spreadsheet or a tool like todoist?

    In a way it is really just a to-do list and uses the getting things done philosophy but focusing on the most stressful. Is there a danger here that your decisions could then become too much motivated by anxiety rather than what is the next best step?

  18. I think it makes sense to acknowledge what’s stressing you out. Even something that’s small for one person would be huge for another. That, together with delaying doing anything about it makes for a powerful process. Shared. Thanks.

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