Anxiety is a silent killer, like a poisonous snake, attacking us without us being consciously aware of its approach until we realize that we are on edge, discombobulated, and even panicked.
When we strive for our goals, it’s a delicate dance between experiencing fulfillment and suffering anxiety. While we work hard on projects, tasks, duties, or even self-improvement, we can either feel joy or stress. I ask myself, “Can I continue to stretch myself so I can complete my goal or should I put aside my work and rest?”
I have been in the education system for 10 plus years, and the duties and responsibilities of are immense, especially in the past year with COVID-19 (There’s a must-read post on struggles of teaching under COVID).
On top of that, I decided to create and maintain a blog on the side while working a full-time teaching position. Admittedly, on Mondays when I headed into a workday, I often lacked clear direction without any idea what my priorities are or what tasks should be tackled first.
As a result, my concentration suffered, my productivity plummeted, and my workload seemed to grow even larger and intimidating than it usually was. When I reviewed my to-do list I felt overwhelmed and tempted to surrender before I began. Sound familiar?
And this is just the work related stress. I am sure I do not need to explain that all of us have personal duties, tasks, and responsibilities that seem too much to tackle. Then there are relationships that force us to try to get a handle on a situation that we cannot control because it includes another human being who has his or her unique personality, desires, tendencies, and temperament. When we lack control either of ourselves or others, our stress grows exponentially. How do we find inner peace?
I have learned that we can defang anxiety and cultivate tranquility through an action plan that organizes our life and gives us a clear path for completing our tasks, accomplishing our goals, and enriching our relationships.
Let me share five of my tried-and-true time management practices and attitude shifting exercises that pay dividends when I am overwhelmed. They are the real deal for getting stuff done and feeling accomplished on any given day. Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and know that you have the power and choice to make every day wonderful in your own unique way.
SET A TIMER, ACCOMPLISH THE TASK, AND MOVE ON
Realistically, not every day will result in the highest productivity where everything that needs to get done gets done. It’s perfectly fine to give yourself grace for the less productive days, and in fact a less judgmental approach will allow you to jump back in with both feet the next day rather than feeling frustrated, annoyed, and guilty that you didn’t get it all done the day before.
If baking timers yield to the perfect dessert, then a cell phone timer can refine our work and calm our nerves. Rather than approaching with the mindset that its entirety must be completed in one sitting, take a chop at it each day with a timer. There’s something about a timer that motivates us in helpful ways to focus on one thing, eliminating the desire to multitask.
When the buzzer goes off, I stop, update the notepad, and shut it down. At school, we’re given 50 minutes of planning in a school day, and the timer works magic when I allot specific time for grading, lesson plans, or recording songs for the students. I’ll select Thursday’s planning period for lesson plans and grades for 50 uninterrupted minutes. Whatever doesn’t get done, I leave for next week. Even if I finish within 50 minutes, I maximize the time to work ahead until that alarm goes off.
In addition, I keep a working to-do list on a notepad on my phone (a notebook is great too, but I’m too much of a tech junkie!🤓) where I list any projects, due dates, and tasks that need my immediate attention. If there are due dates, I indicate it on a calendar (again, I heart Google Calendar!). Knowing my capabilities of starting one thing, not finishing it only because I was pulled into working on something else entirely, often leaves me in a tangled state.
Whether you refer to it as time-blocking or scheduling, it works wonders in accomplishing tasks.
CREATE A CONDUCIVE AND NURTURING WORK ENVIRONMENT
WFH (work from home) has become a recent reality. The amenities and luxury of leaving our dwelling places to interactively work with others in a luscious space with access to the staff kitchen stocked with snacks is almost a thing of the past. We learned quickly that our office space has a great impact on our energy levels.
However, the year 2020 shifted when and where many of us work, and it’s important that we don’t treat this as a temporary situation but as a way to create a more effective workspace. I even wrote a post on how a simple, functional and creative workspace makes a tremendous difference in productivity.
Here’s what you need for a successful work setup: a flat surface for your computer that’s not your lap or a pillow, and yes, your kitchen counter or dining room table will work just fine; and a comfortable chair that allows you to sit upright comfortably with your feet planted on the ground.
Posture is everything, and after some lower back issues, improving my posture especially while working boosted my productivity. A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology stated that sitting up straight and sticking your chest out can increase your productivity. I can assert that when I bought a comfortable yet stylish work chair, I upgraded my game immensely.
Other amenities include a water bottle, headphones, a lit candle, a small vase of flowers, a planner, a writing utensil, and my personal favorite, a small dish of almonds for brief snack attacks.
Establishing a functional space in advance allows for a healthy work routine.
PUTTING YOURSELF FIRST IS OK
When you say yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself. As someone who had the distorted perspective that always saying yes proved my worth, displayed my work ethics and casted me as dependable, I soon realized I couldn’t keep my head above water. This led to self-neglect.
There are key focusing essentials of life that should always be on our forefront: physical, mental, and spiritual health. I sacrificed so much of myself in order to gain respect, but ended up being taken for granted, and the cost outweighed the results.
ESTABLISH WORK BOUNDARIES
Love and respect yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious, and by doing this you’re teaching others how to treat you by what you will and will not accept. Filling up your plate unnecessarily will ignite stress, which yields sadness, self-doubt, and a handful of negative thoughts that you don’t need.
It’s easier said than done, but here are polite ways to magnify your no’s:
- Thank you but I’m not available.
- I appreciate you asking me but I’m unable to do it.
- I appreciate you thinking of me but I’m unable to do it.
- I’m honored that you asked but I’m unable to commit to that right now.
- Sorry I can make it this time. Perhaps next time.
- I’m sorry, I’m unavailable this weekend, but perhaps next weekend.
Asserting your priority to concentrate on your projects provides nourishment to your body, mind, and spirit.
MAXIME MENTAL BREAKS
Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break. Rather than pushing through, pull back and gain some perspective. Give yourself permission to unplug and regroup without feeling guilty or pressed for time. Regardless of your current life’s situation, make the choice to just be. This can take place during a commute from work, in the shower, ten minutes during lunch, or before bed. There’s no need to find the time. Make the time as you make the time to eat, drink, and sleep.
Take the moments to focus on the people and things you are most grateful for. It’s in these moments of upholding an attitude of gratitude when frustrations and anxiety fall by the wayside. Whether it’s through journaling, morning walks outside, silent meditation, or working out, all of these provide a healthy, and much needed outlet to recharge and reset.
Your value and worth are not tied to your productivity and personal achievement. Taking a break shouldn’t feel wrong or that you’re losing precious time. Needing time also doesn’t equate to being weak or failing in some way. Rather, it’s a display of courage to listen tentatively to your body, mind, and soul, while investing that time in yourself as best as you can.
Let us realize that pushing ourselves to the limit does not lead to good outcomes. We must care for ourselves physically, emotionally, and psychologically. These are a few of the ways that led me to a more tranquil existence while feeling proud of my achievements attained through hard but nonstrestressful work.