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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

Do you ever find yourself telling a friend or colleague that you’re “so busy” whenever they ask how you’re doing? Or, that you “have a lot on your plate and hardly have any time for yourself”?

These are common answers to the question: “ how are you doing?”. Perhaps you see it as an easy response that doesn’t need much explanation.  Or, it could be that you’re in disbelief at the end of the week, wondering where all that time went.

The reality is that time is precious and waits for no man. Yet, many of us unconsciously squander time away; but when  that realization kicks in, it’s often too late, or you have little time left to spare. And, the end result of what you were going to accomplish either gets short changed or fails altogether.

Think about the time when you had to be up early for an important meeting at work; yet, the night before you were up late binge watching a TV series. You ended up waking up late the next morning and had to rush to work, leaving you flustered and not well prepared for the meeting. Did you really have to watch those TV series late into the night? Or could you have used that time for an early rest?

Or, what about  that time you had a deadline to meet, and you spent every night that week working late to complete the project. Did you really have to spend every night working late at the office? Or could you have prioritized your time better and gotten the project done during your typical work hours?

I’m sure we’re all guilty of not spending our time wisely at some point in our lives.

But let’s not focus on the time that has already been spent; instead, let’s look at how we can prioritize and leverage the time that we still have!

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How to Leverage Your Time

Going back to the age-old battle of Quantity versus Quality, which do you think matters more? What if I told you that you need not worry about how much time you have left–instead, focus on how you’re making use of the time that you do have so that it’s worth many more valuable moments in the future?

That’s right. You can easily multiply or invest in the time that you have now. This way, you’ll reap many more returns in the future, instead of merely spending time at present. And, one simple way of investing in time now–so that it becomes quality time– is to Prioritize.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. It isn’t new. Yet, how many of us actually intentionally sit down to prioritize daily tasks and responsibilities? Even less likely, how many of us know a method that can help us effortlessly decide what is important enough to take up an hour of time, and what can be skipped?

Here’s an important skill I want to introduce to you:

Determine Value in Any Task or Action

Before you can decide on what to prioritize, you need to know just how important that action is.

Value is what you gain from an action that you take. It’s the benefit you’re getting in return for spending your time. Sometimes, the Value is immediate or short term; other times, it‘s only realized in the long term.

So when you invest in time, you’re actually creating future value for the time you put in now. Usually, the benefits are not immediate and will take time to manifest. But once they are realized, they are enjoyed over a long period of time.

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Reduce Time Expenditures

Time expenditure on the other hand, creates short term benefits at the cost of your current time. Usually, the benefits are quickly enjoyed, but are one-off. So once it’s done, it’s gone.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your tasks are automatically prioritized by your brain. Some tasks can get you closer toward your goals, while others don’t really get you anywhere at all. Outside of work, most people seldom plan out their tasks deliberately, which allows  them be driven automatically.

This is where you end up feeling ‘busy’ all the time because some of the actions that you’re doing don’t necessarily align with what you want in the future. The consequence is that we spend a lot of our precious time on wasteful time expenditures, and far too little on time investments.

This causes a lot of people to be stuck in the same loop, day after day, month after month, year after year.

By simply determining the value of your daily actions or tasks, you’ll already be intentionally prioritizing at a much more efficient rate. This will not only reduce time expenditure, but increase time investments that you’ll be able to use in the near future for much more important areas in your life.

Let me paint you a scenario. Say you’re going on a week long vacation to Australia. It’s your first time travelling to Australia and there are so many activities you want to do, sights you want to see, and restaurants and eateries you’d like to visit .

All this research can get pretty overwhelming and you may not know where to even start! Do I book a hotel first? Or get my flights? But what if I decide on a specific  hotel and realize it’s far away from all the major attractions? Should I then look up what attractions I want to visit first? This list can go on!

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In order to not get overwhelmed or over plan your trip itinerary, here’s where Determining the Value of each action or task can help you Prioritize effortlessly.

Start with Your Intention

What is the purpose of this vacation? Once you know the purpose of this vacation, you’ll be able to list down a bunch of tasks or actions–such as booking a hotel, booking flights and land transport, booking tickets to certain attractions, making reservations for restaurants, etc.

Once you’ve compiled your list, the next step is simply to categorize them into 3 criteria:  

Must haves, Should haves, and Good to haves.

Must haves are tasks that are absolutely critical to achieve the objective, and should take top priority for resources and time.  

The Should haves are important but not critical; leaving them out may lessen the impact of your outcome.

And, the Good to haves are just optional. Not having them  won’t affect the outcome of your goal.

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Once you’re able to sort out your list according to these 3 criteria, you’re already one step closer to prioritizing effectively and spending quality time on those Must have tasks. And, this will be a game changer. You’ll be able to easily communicate what you are spending time on, and you’ll find that you have more time to spare because it’s crystal clear what’s worth skipping out on!

This can be applied to any aspect of your life, whether you’re a full-time working professional, stay at home parent, or working parent. If you’ve ever used the expression “I’ve been so busy” when talking to someone, then I’ll recommend you give this a shot.

Quantify Your Tasks

Now that you know how to determine the Value of your actions spent, the next step up to effective Prioritizing would be to quantify your tasks so that you can objectively decide which is more important. This is especially useful when you have multiple items within each Must have, Should have and Good to have criteria.

Quantifying your tasks by assigning a value will allow you to objectively see the importance, making it easy for you to know which task to work on first. This way, you can be assured that the time and effort that you’ve put into is quality.

Final Thoughts

Time management is only one piece of a bigger puzzle of change that you can go through, to turn your life around and find more fulfilment. Often, when you find yourself going through an obstacle or limitation in life, it’s not just because of one flaw or a one off decision you made.

It’s often a process and a result of many actions that resulted to where you are now, and so you should go deeper to reflect and see how things can be done differently.

Learn more time management tips:

Featured photo credit: Marten Bjork via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious

How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious

Overwhelmed with work, family responsibilities, financial challenges and health issues are common culprits which catalyze stress and anxiety symptoms that show up differently in each and every one of us.

Whilst many of us are becoming much better at identifying what can trigger us to feel these, we’re not always that great at recognizing our individual thresholds; we don’t know exactly how to calm down when the mental, emotional storms erupt.

We can almost see you eye-rolling upon hearing commonly recommended stress antidotes such as taking a bath, lighting candles or going for a walk. Let’s face it. These simply aren’t practical things you can do when you’re on a red-eye flight at 5:30am to run a full day of training interstate and then fly back the same evening not to mention juggling a young family.

You want to know your triggers, predict the impact of them and have your own suite of tools up your sleeve to calm down that impact for the long-term.

Doing a little ground work to gain a strong self-awareness of your likely reactions puts you smack bang in the pilot seat to develop a robust mental and emotional toolkit that will work wonders for you.

A few simple but well-practiced techniques may be all you need to simmer down the cyclonic intensity of emotions, and disparaging thoughts pecking away at your self-esteem and confidence. However, it’s important you do this self-reflective groundwork first to gain maximum impact for long-term effect.

1. Strengthen Familiarity with What Triggers You

When you have arguments with your loved one, do you stop and look to see if there are certain things you fight about? Are there certain behaviors they display that drive you bananas?

Take your focus off them and ask yourself: “What is my usual response?”

Perhaps you feel the anger welling up inside your chest and you then spurt out that you’ve told him or her ten times before to not leave their underwear lying across the bedroom floor.

Think a little deeper. Ask yourself what values, standards and expectations you have that are not being met here. You’ll likely be attached to certain ways you believe things should play out. Are there assumptions and expectations as to how you believe people should conduct themselves and principles about how you feel you should be treated?

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Having a strong attachment to these for yourself is one thing. Expecting others to have the same attachment is often what can make the hot water start simmering.

It is often when people behave in ways inconsistent with our belief systems and events unfold in discord with what we expect and are prepared for that we feel the most stress and anxiety.

Make a list of the common circumstances in different areas of your life that cause you to become anxious and stressed. Against each of these, describe your stress response:

What happens? What do you feel?

Now think about the values, principles and expectations you have attached to these. You’ll see you have a few options:

  • Change my values and expectations
  • Try to change other’s values and expectations
  • Recognize and be in allowance of others having different values, standards and expectations

Reviewing how you react when you’re stressed and anxious, and identifying which of these three options above is going to best serve you, can greatly increase your ability to feel and be in control of calming your reaction.

You move closer to being able to choose how you want to respond as opposed to feeling helpless and the world is spiralling out of control.

2. Have Coping Statements on Hand

When you have a washing machine of chaotic thoughts churning in your mind, trying to implant thoughts that are the complete opposite of what you’re thinking and feeling can be pretty hard.

Not being able to do it can also add another layer of us feeling disappointment in ourselves. We feel we’re failing.

Having coping statements that you can literally latch on to to help you calm down in those stressful and anxious moments, can be particularly helpful.

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Look at creating palm cards and just have three to five of these you can have in your pocket or in your purse. Here are 6 examples:

  • Even though I am feeling this right now, I am going to be alright
  • What I am feeling right now is uncomfortable. I won’t feel this way forever. Soon the intensity of what I am feeling will pass.
  • I’ve survived these feelings before. I can do it again.
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences but right now, I am actually safe.
  • It’s ok for me to feel this way. My body and brain are trying to protect me but I am actually safe right now.
  • Ah, here you are again, anxiety. Thanks for showing up to protect me, but I don’t need you right now.

Choose words and dialogue that feel true and accurate for you. Read the statements out to yourself and test how fitting they are for you. What feels more assuring, calming and right for you?

Make these statements your own. The aim is of these statements is to de-escalate the intensity of what you feel when you’re anxious and stressed.

Remember, you want to refrain from having blunt statements which feel or sound like they’re self-reprimanding because they won’t be pacifying in a positive way.

If you are unsure as to how to come up with statements that fit for you, look to work with a psychologist or licensed therapist to give you a strong start.

3. Identify and Develop Physical Anchors

You actually have within you resources to provide some of the most effective ways to calm yourself down in heightened moments you feel stressed and anxious. Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Peter Levine and expert in treating stress and trauma, teaches us how techniques which do this, such as Somatic Experiencing®[1] can significantly help us calm down.

By learning to be fully present and applying touch to certain areas of your body (e.g. forehead and heart space), you increase your capacity to self-regulate. You also learn how to attend to and release your unique symptoms that your body has been containing in a way you have not been able to before.

Here’s one technique example:

  1. Get in a comfortable position
  2. Have your eyes open or closed, whatever feels most comfortable for you
  3. Now place one hand on your forehead, palm side flat against the skin
  4. Place the other hand, palm down across your heart space above your sternum… the flat of your chest area.
  5. Gently turn your attention to what you feel physically in the area between your two hands. Observe and just take notice of what you physically feel. Is your chest pounding? How strong are its beat and the rhythm? Do you notice any other sensations anywhere else between your two hands?
  6. Don’t try to push or resist what you’re feeling. Try to just sit with it and remain this way with your hands in place until you feel a shift, a physical one. It might take a little longer, so try to be patient.

You might feel a change in energy flow, a change in temperature or different, less intense sensations. Just keep your hands in place until you feel some kind of shift, even if gradual.

It might take you even 5 to 10 minutes but, riding this wave will help you to process what discomfort your body is containing. It will greatly help to release it so you gradually become calmer.

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Purely cognitive exercises can be tough at the outset. Learning somatic experience techniques is particularly helpful because you’re engaging in exercises where you physically can feel the difference. Feeling the changes helps you increase confidence you can control and reduce the discomfort you’re feeling. You’ll be motivated to keep practicing and improving this skill you can take anywhere, anytime.

4. Move and Get Physical

If you’re not one to exercise, you’re robbing yourself of some very easy ways which help you calm down and reduce stress and anxiety responses. Many neuro chemical changes take place when you engage in exercise.

At certain levels of physical exertion, your brain’s pituitary gland releases neurotransmitter endorphins. When they bind with certain opiate receptors in your brain, signals are transmuted throughout your nervous system to reduce feelings of pain and trigger feelings of euphoria. You might have heard the term ‘runner’s high’.

For the last 20 years, University of Missouri-Columbia’s Professor Richard Cox has conducted research showing that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective at reducing anxiety and stress levels than other forms of aerobic exercise.[2] However, if you would rather slay dragons than turn up an F45 class, it’s essential you still find something that will physically shift you and alter your current mental and emotional state of mind, even just a fraction to start with. It’s 100% ok if this is not your cup of tea.

So in a day full of back of back-to-back meetings, what can you do?

If you’re sitting, stand. Change your posture and open your body up. Have a suite of discrete stretches you can do regularly as you deepen and engage in diaphragmatic breathing.

If you’re looking down at your desk at work and feeling increasingly stressed, look up and change what you’re looking at. Give yourself more than a few moments to decompress.

The main thing is to change your disposition from the one you’re in when you are experiencing anxiety and stress symptoms. You’re shaking it up to calm it down.

5. Transform Your Unhelpful Inner Dialogue and Its Energy

Learning cognitive restructuring techniques can truly work wonders in helping you recognize and re-frame unhelpful dialogue and negative critical thinking patterns. This involves a little preparation being transparent with yourself about what exaggerated perspectives you might ascribe to what’s happening when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

When you open your email inbox and see a flood of requests which require more time and energy you have for that day, dread starts to settle in and the following comes to mind: “This is impossible. How can they expect me to be able to do all this? It’s completely unreasonable!”

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Instantly, many other thoughts that reinforce this line of thinking as well as the emotional energy of your first conscious thought start unravelling. A 4-step process you can engage to calm the eruption is:

  1. Catch and notice that first thought you had. What was it? What did you think and/or say to yourself?
  2. Recognize that what you’re feeling and be in allowance of the initial intensity of whatever those emotions are.
  3. Breath deliberately a little more deeply and slowly for a few seconds.
  4. State to yourself: “Right now (in this moment) I’m feeling overwhelmed by this, however maybe I can look at what I can make good progress and headway with as a start from here on.”

Notice the language in step 4 is tentative, supportive, soft and not resistant nor defiant of what your original thought was. You accept your original thought, but gradually you become stronger at pivoting it.[3] You’re expanding your growth mindset language.

It’s definitely worth working with a coach or trained therapist to learn how to tailor re-framing statements which can truly help you calm down.

Final Thoughts

We know, in our minds what we should do. When we’re in the thick of experiencing mental and emotional turmoil, it’s actually harder to implement what we know. In those moments, you’re unlikely to have capacity to think about what you need to do, let alone do it effectively to help you feel calmer.

The key is to practice so that when the storm is brewing, your toolkit and supplies are in easy access. You already know your safety drill well.

Knowing you have strategies and prepared processes up your sleeves helps you not only become better at calming yourself in amongst currently stressful situations. You have more confidence now to face more anxiety-provoking stressors because you have developed the resources to handle it.

How you invest time and energy into getting to know your triggers and thresholds will influence how effective these strategies will work for you. We’re not denying relaxing baths or regular massages are helpful, however these band-aid-like solutions don’t really confront the root causes.

If you truly want to turn your experience of your stress and anxiety symptoms around, dig deeper, do the groundwork and that which rattled your cage will quickly become a thing of the past.

More Stress Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

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