Managing Stress as a Busy Person: The Three S's

Written by Troy Howard

10 September 2013

There are times when a productive person finds themselves overwhelmed with work. You'll look around and proclaim "there's no end to this" as your sense of priority fails you, switching from task to task without completing any of them. You spend too much time on simple or unimportant things. You get frustrated easily and can feel the blue smoke coming out of your ears, longing to escape the dilemma. It's ultimately unfair that the more capable you are the more work you get thrown at you, while those unproductive fools surrounding you laugh off your fervor, chortling away from their lap of leisure.

Well, there's a simple set of rules to solve this problem. Just like the three R's of waste prevention (reduce, reuse, recycle), there are three S's of the stressed over-producer (or alternatively the three D's):

Share

D: Delegate

The first thing to do when facing an enormous workload is to try to share the load. It may not be obvious, but oftentimes the folks around you are more than willing to help out, if you simply ask them to. However, they may never offer to help if you don't ask for it, and share your needs. This can be hard, because letting go of control can seem impossible.

It may seem as though, if you don't do it yourself, it won't be done right.

Newsflash: you're already screwing it up by being so overworked. You're taking too long. You're too distracted to do a quality job. You can't even really remember what is important about what you're doing.

Stopping for a moment, explaining it to someone else, and letting go of the responsibility can be a tremendous relief. That relief is as valuable as your reduced workload from sharing. This should always be your first and best option when overworked. You'll make a new friend. You'll teach someone how to help you so it's easier to lean on them next time you're in this situation. You'll have someone to vent your frustrations to. Sharing is awesome!

Schedule

D: Defer

Sometimes, though, there's really no one who can help out. Or maybe people are already helping and there's still a ton to do. More than you and your entire army of helpers can do. But, here's the thing. Not everything actually has to be done right now.

I know, it may seem like it should be done right now, but beware that evil S-word, should. It will mess you up every chance it gets. Instead of "should", rephrase the question with "could".

Could this be done later?

- You

What would happen? How bad would life be if you waited until tomorrow, or next week, or next month to do this? When is the very latest time, if you were to put this off to, that you'd still have time to get it done?

Schedule it. You're not abandoning the work, you're just deferring it until later. Once you've given it a time slot on a schedule, you don't feel like you're letting anyone down. You're still committed to doing it, and in fact, by scheduling it properly, you're ensuring that it will get done at an appropriate time, instead of being screwed up by your current overworked self.

Scheduling is your friend. In fact, one can even take this idea so far, that you could categorize all your things to do into "things that I need to do now" and "things that can be put off until later", and avoid the equally bothersome task of setting a specific date for that deferred work.

"Don't do now what you can put off until tomorrow." Oh no, now we're starting to sound like our less productive peers. The difference is, you'll actually do it later. As you complete your "do it now" list, move over a nice manageable set of things from the deferred list and watch as it whittles away to nothing, slowly but surely.

Scrap

D: Delete

Well now look at that awesome "do it later" list we just made. It's got 500 items on it. It's time to get real here. How many of those things will you ever actually do?

Looking at a backlog of deferred work can be very frustrating. It can put us right back where we started, feeling like the work is endless.

Let's take a critical eye at that list. What can be removed? What things here are so unlikely to ever make it into the "do it now" category at some point in the future. Surely there is at least ONE thing in that list which can be forever deleted. Go ahead, don't be wishy-washy. Commit to deleting it.

Say "thanks, but no thanks" to that work. You don't do windows. You're not going to knit a sweater for your aunt, ever, no matter how much you like the idea of doing it. Just toss it, and feel good that your deferred list just got shorter, and all you had to do was hit DEL on your keyboard.

Bye bye frustration, hello clarity. You might even find, that once you get started deleting things, it gets addictive, and fun, and you might just delete the whole damned list, go for a walk and have a piece of cheesecake. And that might be exactly the right thing to do.

Conclusion

So wether you prefer to Share, Schedule, Scrap or Delegate, Defer, Delete, either way, with these tools in your back pocket, you'll be on top of that workload in no time. And don't even think about the 10 minutes you just spent reading this and how much work you didn't get done… :P