For many of us, September – rather than January – is a conditioned time for restarting and beginning new projects. Home life through the summer is often full, but also nourishing. As a result of feeling relaxed with long days, we have a high capacity to keep on top of all of our responsibilities. When we feel good about juggling it all, it may seem like preventing a fall is unnecessary, but the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” still holds when it comes to stress management.
Unmanaged stress and its impacts can be harmful to health and wealth, as it has strong interactions with both metabolism, productivity and interpersonal dynamics. If you’d like a primer on the mechanism of burnout, read here.
As tasks keep piling, how can we effectively handle the onslaught? Decreasing stress isn’t a reasonable choice in a busy work/home life. Changing our reactive response to stress is a great goal, but it takes time, patience, & compassion to notice triggers and develop new habits.
What can help us manage stress right now?
I call it the Triple O solution.
An Ounce Of Organization
First: The Basics
Before organizing our responsibilities, let’s look at the basics of well-functioning brains.
Anyone who has taken care of young children knows the importance of prioritizing these three pillars of health:
- Healthy Eating
- Healthy Sleeping
- Healthy Bowels
We see the impact of these three on attention, creativity, and productivity clearly. If we can get these in order, resilient responses will be within our grasp.
Make sure that the three pillars of health are taken care of, and if not – maybe getting a system of organizing them will help.
Next: Get a system, whether that’s with your inbox, your large projects, or your meal plans.
Organization systems are not meant to be complicated – they could be as easy as:
- A daytimer
- A tear-away note pad
- Phone applications with programmed reminders
- Small sticky notes to which you will pay attention
The trick with systems is getting ourselves into to the habit of actually using and responding to the system we make. To motivate ourselves, we need to have achievable goals so the “to-do’s” get checked off. Checking off lists changes brain chemistry to respond to reward of finishing the task, so that we feel a rush of accomplishment and a desire to continue with our system. Once you find a format that works, then begins the organizing.
Start small with your tasks. Instead of saying, “I’m going to answer all my emails, or I have to finish this entire project today or I’m eating salad for lunch forever,” (extremes inevitably defeat us) break down your bigger goal into bite-sized pieces.
What is the smallest primary task within your larger goal? Only once it is checked off do you move on to the next small task, until completion of the larger goal comes into view, ad infinitum. Letting the big picture overwhelm us, stalls us from our using our skills and showing ourselves our own potential.
See the big picture initially is important – and then create an organizational system that best and logically handles your tasks. Sometimes setting up tasks under a strict timer works, and sometimes setting up tasks to be focused on until completion works best. Each goal and person will have their own appropriate style, see what works for you.
When you can see the small steps to the big goal and make adjustments for the unexpected, you become your own personal project manager.
Being your own project manager means explicitly laying out your tasks. Making a list is crucial in this role. Don’t keep the small tasks in your head: get them out on paper and check them off as you go. Lists are not made to hold your long-term goals. Lists are small, achievable tasks that you can accomplish within a day.
That means setting up an organizational system today so that you can better handle the project tomorrow. For sustainable life/work dynamics, efficient organization trumps emergency solutions.
To be efficiently organized you need timelines, and to build timelines you need to break down your goals into bite-sized tasks. Make (realistic) lists today, manage stress tomorrow. An ounce of prevention is all it takes to prevent burnout.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.