The current situation in the world has us all feeling stressed and a little more than slightly off-kilter with our normal schedules and routines. So today I’d like to talk about how to take back your time to decrease stress in your life. The constant levels of stress we are all under with the pandemic, coupled with learning to run our lives almost entirely from home, have thrown us all for a loop. Whether you are working from home, out of work, have kids at home, or are isolated, everyone’s lives have been disrupted in major and minor ways. The first way you can take back control of your time is through your morning and evening routines. Your work schedule may be dramatically different, but keeping your sleep schedule consistent is important to maintaining good health and stabilizing your emotional well-being. Create routines with specific bedtimes and wake-up times and ways that you can streamline your schedule so that you don’t have to make too many decisions to ward off mental fatigue. For example, before you go to sleep at night, write down your to do list, pick out your clothes, and plan your meals for the next day. By giving yourself less things to worry about the next day, you will minimize mental fatigue. In fact, preparing your meal menus for 1-2 weeks at a time is a great idea especially right now, when we are all limiting our trips to the store and cooking more at home. When it comes to your to do list, we all have a million things we could get done, but limit yourself to just a half dozen items each day and prioritize your list so that the most challenging items get done first, before lunch, and the less demanding items can be done during the afternoon energy slump. Most people are mentally sharpest and have the most energy before lunch, with a dip early to mid-afternoon and then another burst of energy before dinner. So utilize those times wisely and do your critical thinking tasks during your high energy times, and those items that are easily checked off your list during low energy parts of the day.
Next on the list for taking control of your time and stress management is figuring out what kind of schedule works best for you. Is it paper or digital? The answer is whatever you will use and be consistent with. It’s also key to make sure that everyone in your household can see and share a calendar, especially when working from home so that you can minimize interruptions and conflicts. Give each person and each type of task a color, set alerts, and set up whatever other systems you need to have in place in order to manage your time efficiently and with minimal effort. Make sure to plan items as far ahead as possible, such as adding in recurring appointments, bills, and special occasions so you don’t remember to pay that bill too late or to send out your Mother’s birthday card. Another tip is to add some flexibility into your daily calendar. Give yourself grace to account for the unexpected things that invariably pop up, interruptions, and breaks. Consider blocking off chunks of time rather than trying to work off a minute-by-minute schedule. You may have transitioned from a very specific work schedule in an office to a more task-oriented schedule at home. If that’s the case, you have to work very differently, and giving yourself broader times to complete tasks will reduce stress and allow you to have freedom in your schedule to account for the little and big things that will come up throughout your day.
When it comes to working throughout the day, don’t fall into the multitasking trap. It takes on average 10 minutes to come back from a distraction, and it will take far longer to complete a task when you are trying to do multiple things at a time than it would if you just focused on one item and completed it. Interruptions eat a time of time, so give yourself small pockets o uninterrupted focus, and then take frequent breaks between tasks. You can multitask all you want doing things like scrolling through social media and watching tv, but when it comes to your to-do list and work life, one thing at a time will get you done faster, and on to your free time. Time management and energy management go hand in hand, so know your best times to do those productive tasks versus the things that you can do on autopilot. Figure out how long tasks really take you. It’s amazing how much faster you can clean the house when you just focus on getting it done rather than constantly putting it off, but you also may be underestimating certain tasks as well. Set a timer, focus, and then record in your calendar how long the things you do this week really take you. You may be surprised at what you find, and it will make it much easier to plan your days and create your schedule moving forward. Who knows how long we will be in this situation, and many people will continue working from home for the long term. Kids will be home through the Summer, and even as restrictions begin to loosen, we will all need to settle into a new normal, Creating routines and learning how to manage your schedule now, will help you to manage stress, fight frustration and fatigue, and ultimately take back control of your time.
If you’d like to explore further what having the support of a mental wellness coach looks like, let’s talk.