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Your “personal stress detox program”

Your “personal stress detox program”

I have been thinking recently about the importance of taking enough vacation to get a real break from work. Here’s how to use the upcoming vacation season to make a huge impact on the load of stress that you’re almost certainly carrying around.

  1. Make sure that you take a long-enough vacation for the program. You need at least seven days, preferably more if you can manage it. Any less won’t give you the time to make a real impact on your mind or body.
  2. Make a list of what you must leave behind: your laptop, your BlackBerry, your PDA, any paperwork from the office, any work-related reading matter. You must treat those as a recovering alcoholic should treat beer, wines, or spirits: absolutely forbidden!
  3. Give your cellphone to someone whom you can trust to prevent you using it during your vacation, except in the direst emergency. No “checking in” with the office. No telling colleagues they can contact you if they need to.
  4. Make it clear to everyone at work that you’re not contactable. If necessary, tell them that there’s no cellphone signal where you’re going, no Internet links, and no possibility of getting anywhere where electronic communications are available. (Consider the message you give when you resolutely remain in contact during your vacation, or make others check in with you. It says: “I don’t trust you not to mess up, because you’re a moron, you’re incompetent, or you’re such an asshole that you’ll stab me in the back as soon as I walk out the door.”)
  5. Travel these days is very stressful.Try not to travel too far. Make plans that include lots of lay-over time, so you won’t be fretting about making that next flight.
  6. While you’re away, ask that trusted person to answer all phone calls. Never pick up the phone yourself. The rule is no contact from anyone concerned with work, save in a genuine emergency (and I mean genuine, like the office burned down).
  7. Pick a vacation that includes lots of places to go, things to see and do, and fresh experiences to keep you fully engaged. Don’t lie on a beach or hang around the pool. Boredom will send you mind scurrying back to work-related issued and have you imagining all kinds of problems waiting for you. Then you’ll try to find some way of getting in touch.
  8. Stay in the moment. No past. No future. Simply pay attention to what is happening right here and right now. Most of us spend nearly all our time worrying about what’s going to happen, or analyzing what did. You can do nothing to change the past and the future is unknowable. But both can prevent you from enjoying what’s here, right now.
  9. Let go. Let go of worries, fears, hopes, expectations, anxieties. they will still be there when you get back, so try to ignore them for the period of your vacation.
  10. Get plenty of sleep. Most people are chronically sleep-deprived. Make sure you can have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at might. Maybe throw in a few siestas as well.
  11. Accept how things are. Don’t try to imagine the perfect vacation. Don’t judge it against any preset ideas, or against past vacations, or against other people’s ideas of how it should be. Just accept whatever comes.
  12. Don’t watch TV. None. If you want to watch a film, make sure it’s the kind you get on a special channel, not one on a regular network. Let the world look after itself. No checking up on the stockmarket either.
  13. Reading is fine, but must not include anything even remotely work-related. Try to choose something other than typical pulp fiction. Something to stimulate your mind and challenge your habitual ways of thinking.
  14. Listen to music. Better still, play some music. Sound and rhythm are great healers.
  15. If you find yourself feeling bored and with nothing to do, do something energetic that won’t let you sit and think about work, or about how bored you are. Play some sport. Go for a walk. Swim. Go to the gym.
  16. If you find yourself spending hours just enjoying what you’re doing and thinking about nothing in particular, congratulations. Your program is a success!

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, The Creativity Class: a place to discover the best ideas on having the best ideas, and Working Potential, where you’ll learn about great ideas for self-development. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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