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Dealing With Stress: The Stop, Look and Listen Method

Dealing With Stress: The Stop, Look and Listen Method

    Think of your last hell task week. What exactly constitutes a “HTW”? Think of those weeks when you have to deliver that huge, vital project. You know, while also dealing with a computer crash, 40 urgent emails per day and your boss giving you a ton of ‘I want this by tomorrow’ tasks. That’s “HTW”.

    You probably fear these weeks, and barely remember how you dealt with them after they are over. I want to share with you my method to dealing with them systematically.

    To deal with “HTW” I use a method I call Stop, look & listen. It is very simple, and you can apply it to every stressful situation.

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    Stop

    Shut your door, and put up a huge paper sign with “Do not disturb” on it. You can add the drawing of a skull, or the international signs for danger or death. Be creative, but make sure no one will open your door until you remove the sign unless the building is on fire or Godzilla is destroying the city.

    If you have office mates, make clear to them you will be unavailable for a while. You can put your earphones in, (I personally love headphones that cancel ambient noise. For example, I use a pair of in-ear Sennheiser). Keep a baseball bat or some other menacing piece of office supplies just in case someone wants to ask you something. If you work in an open office, try wearing something that indicates ‘don’t disturb’. My girlfriend, for example, wears a hat when she can’t be interrupted, as a cue to her office mates.

    Disconnect your office phone and your cell phone. Don’t worry, this will only take half an hour or so, the likelihood of something really critical happening are much like 0. Of course, Murphy’s law can decide to trick you and you lose an important call. Don’t worry, they’ll call again. Close your email, Twitter, chat and whatever things connect you to the outside world.

    Give your mind at least 5 minutes of relaxation. No stressful calls, no deliveries, nothing. Just relax for a while and think about nothing. You need it. You know you need it, too. Just do it, now is the moment. Think about your favourite relaxing place, think of you as a rock: unmovable by external forces.

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    Look

    Write down all your outstanding tasks. All that stuff that you need to get done this week, no matter who you have to kidnap or how many nights without sleeping you need to endure. Write down your appointments (dinner with X, kids game, vet visit) and usual time consuming commitments (prepare company newsletter, take the dog out).

    Take a look at this list, and then remove at least 20% of the tasks. Either delegate them, postpone them, or just remove them.

    Now, see if you can get rid of another 20% of that same list.

    Delegate as many as you can, even if you need to ask for some favour from your coworkers (please find me the numbers for this report and next Monday I’ll take care of the server problems) or your family (This week I can’t take the dog out, but I’ll compensate next week by also preparing dinner).

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    Listen

    Now, although it sounds a little new-age, listen to your heart and add tasks you need to do. Add the stuff you pospone in your life for the sake of your work.

    The first few times you follow this procedure, in the “Look” step you are likely to remove all life stuff just to leave work stuff. You think about your big project and put it against watching the soccer match with your father, and put off calling your dad until next week.

    Work and life should be balanced. You need to avoid reaching the point that your work starts to eat into your personal time, and vice versa. If your boss is overworking you, talk to him. If the big project is conflicting with the tasks he asks you to get done from one day to the other, ask him to help you prioritize.


    With this sense of control most of your stress will just fade away, because the oppressing feeling of tasks hanging over our heads without control is why we get overwhelmed. This method gives you control, and with control comes a sense of calm and diminished stress.

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    You can get in control by starting to manage your tasks instead of your time. When you are overwhelmed time management is usually pointless: there is a certain number of tasks that need to be done soon, and the only think you need is a piece of paper to have all them written down, but you won’t need any fancy timeboxing or split time strategy.

    Pretend you are a post office worker. As tasks are assigned to you, return them to the sender, delegate to the appropriate person (or bribe/ask for a favour/task exchange) or in extreme cases, put in your list of do it.

    This week, try to gain some control over your stress. By next week, I’m sure things will be different…in a good way.

    More by this author

    Living With Your Deadlines Biting off more than you can chew 7 Signs You Bite Off More Than You Can Chew The Clock Is Ticking The Clock Is Ticking: Give Up Your Procrastination Stop, Look and Listen: Dealing With Stress: The Stop, Look and Listen Method

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    Last Updated on July 27, 2020

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

    Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

    If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

    1. Create a Daily Plan

    Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

    Here’s How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity.

    2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

    Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

    3. Use a Calendar

    Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

    I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

    Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

    4. Use an Organizer

    An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

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    These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

    5. Know Your Deadlines

    When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

    But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

    6. Learn to Say “No”

    Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

    Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

    7. Target to Be Early

    When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

    For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

    Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

    8. Time Box Your Activities

    This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

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    You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks

    9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

    Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

    10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

    Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

    You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    11. Focus

    Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

    Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

    Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    12. Block out Distractions

    What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

    I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

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    When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

    Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

    13. Track Your Time Spent

    When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

    You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

    14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

    You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

    Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

    15. Prioritize

    Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

    Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    16. Delegate

    If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

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    When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

    17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

    For related work, batch them together.

    For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

    1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
    2. coaching
    3. workshop development
    4. business development
    5. administrative

    I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

    18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

    What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

    One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

    While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

    19. Cut off When You Need To

    The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

    Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

    20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

    Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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