Posted in Blog

Managing Stress

My work life has been more stressful than normal lately, and I’d be remiss in not acknowledging it here. Working in a project-based world means that sometimes multiple projects surge at once, each simultaneously desiring my attention. All project issues seem to run through me, and many feel like a fire that must be immediately addressed. I recognize that I have a complex about being a bottleneck for getting work done. I like to move ASAP on items others are waiting on from me, adding to my stress level.

The past two weeks in particular have been crazy at work. So many projects need my time, and I’ve been facilitating meetings and preparing for a business trip during normal working hours. I’m a part-time employee, but my projects have needed full-time hours lately. There’s no way I’m getting work done while the kids are awake (and I don’t want to cut into my family time with them anyway). So, I’ve been getting up early and/or staying up late to finish to-do items. I’m exhausted.

How do I manage the stress? Well, it depends on the day, and I’m still not always good at it. Here’s what I’ve found to be the most successful for me.

Talk It Out

Sometimes I just need to vent and let it all out. I need to release the pressure valve and share my stress. My poor husband has been the brunt of it lately. The sweet man wants to help me solve my problems and make the stress go away, which is incredibly kind. My mother is also a Godsend. She listens to my ranting whenever I need it, and it’s very much appreciated. I always feel a bit better just talking about what’s bothering me. It requires me to put the stress into words and ultimately organize my thinking on the issue. Sometimes it leads me to seeing a way out all on my own.

Get Perspective

What has usually helped me is to stop and look out my window. When I do, I see life outside my four walls. My problem doesn’t seem that great when I realize there are others out there with likely more significant challenges than whatever I’m encountering.

I remember doing this a lot at my college library that sat upon a hill overlooking the campus and town. I would be stressing about some test or project, then look up and see people walking around outside the size of ants. They each had their own issues and problems going on too outside of me. If I could think about others and imagine them navigating their lives well (e.g., managing a chronic illness, battling addiction, deciding how to come out as LBGTQ), my stress level would calibrate. If others can handle their stress with grace, so can I.

Also, in most cases, my issue that was causing me stress would not really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s not until I stopped and gained perspective that I would see this.

Acknowledge the Good

My job is demanding and sometimes high stress. I don’t have slow days at the office. I’ve never been watching the clock waiting for the day to end. I’m always too busy. Every half-hour of my time is being billed to my clients, so I’m focused and dedicated to make those charges worthwhile.

But, when I step back and think about it. My job has several perks.

  • I work from home whenever I want (i.e., every day).
  • I have flexibility on when I work, as long as I get my work done well and on time. If I want to take a date lunch with my husband during his lunch hour, I can. If I want to volunteer at my son’s school for the afternoon, I can. No big deal.
  • I am well compensated.
  • The work itself of creating learning products for clients is of reasonably difficulty and interesting.
  • I have some really great team members and now friends I work with.

And, on top of my good career, I have a wonderful family. I have two adorable kids who are tons of fun, our senior pup, and a strong marriage to my middle-school sweetheart (!!). I have much to be thankful for.

Okay, I feel better having written this post. Perhaps it, in and of itself, served as a mindfulness exercise. I may need to re-read it each morning as I head into a long workweek of travel and full-day workshops.

Here’s to a reduced-stress workweek!

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Down to Brass Tacks on Managing Work To Dos

There are tons of articles and books out there talking about managing your time, setting priorities, and delegating your work. I often finish reading and think that it’s great to hear in theory, but how does the author actually stay organized. What apps, tools, and tricks are they using that I could leverage? This post is a bit of a reaction to that. Here’s my down-in-the-weeds look at what I’m doing on a weekly and daily basis to stay organized at work.

My job can be hectic. I have multiple projects with various clients and project teams that all have different requirements, standards, and deadlines. My day can range from facilitating working group meetings and pitching work to clients to writing storyboards for an online instruction and editing a curriculum plan. There is always a lot to do. I’m never bored at work. 

I’ve tackled my work to do-list a variety of ways over the years. I’ve used my email inbox as a list of tasks, emailing myself things to do. I’ve used apps like Todoist, which I liked, to track every task I need to do. I have teams that use Trello, a good project management tool. But, for my individual to dos, I’ve found nothing more satisfying than paper and pen.

Currently, every Friday afternoon, I make a list of every project I’m on and note the tasks for each project that need to be on my radar. I list key deadlines and, if I think the list is too overwhelming, I estimate how much time each task will take to complete. If my estimate of hours is greater than my available working hours, then I know I have a problem. Then, I either need to delegate or shift priorities. 

It’s at this time that I calendar block too. For example, if I know I’m going to need to write or edit, I dedicate a chuck of time on my calendar to this focused work. With this strategy, my project teams will see my calendar is full and not schedule a meeting then.

Simultaneously, while I’m looking at my calendar, I check for conflicts or meetings coming up that I need to prep for. Here I may find that I need to add some tasks to my to-do list or block prep time on my calendar.

Once I have my master to-do list Friday afternoon, I set my goals for Monday. This way, I can start immediately Monday morning with a plan.

The key here is to keep the list of goals short. I definitely don’t allow more than 3 items. I’ll likely get more than my goals done in a day, but my I feel accomplished if my goals are met. I’ll probably have a future post just on setting daily goals.

Another piece of notebook paper is used to capture daily goals.

I also realize, especially now as a senior manager, that a big part of my job is supporting my teams. This role often means I’m responding to “fires” as they occur, which can’t be planned. The only element of fires I can plan for is the fact that I know they will happen….regularly. So, I try to leave room in my calendar for them to work themselves in.  As my week progresses, new to dos are added to the master list and accomplished ones are crossed off. I always have a current running list of project tasks. 

Every day ends with a review of what I accomplished and how much time each task took me and then the creation of a plan for the next day. 

I recognize that my system isn’t the only system out there, but it works well for me in my current position. What apps, tools, or tricks do you use to stay focused and organized at work?