Over the past couple years, I’ve made some changes in the way I manage my time and handle stress. It’s occurred to me recently that even though I still have a lot on my plate and live a busy life, I just feel so much calmer than I used to.
We live in a fast-paced world where it often seems like the expectations to be busier and do more are so high. Given this, I thought I’d share some of the habits I’ve implemented that have contributed to helping me feel more in control and less stressed – even while juggling family life, a home, a business, and everything in between.
Habit #1: I Exercise Almost Daily.
I’ve written a lot about how I lost weight last year. A huge part of maintaining that weight loss has been to continue to work out. My sport of choice is running. When I’m running, I can’t do anything else – no housework, no emails, no bills. Running helps calm the mental storm that can often take over, plus it gets the blood flowing. I often find that a good run helps me focus better on the tasks that follow. To make sure that I get in my exercise, I typically put on my workout clothes first thing in the morning and then head out as soon as I’ve put the kids on the bus.
I have had times in my life where I did not make regular time to exercise and can tell you, I was not as able to effectively manage my stress or anxiety. I really think it does something to our mood and ability to focus when we exercise and care for our bodies.
Habit #2: I Make a Daily To-Do List.
One habit I’ve developed in the last couple years is making a daily to-do list. There’s something very freeing about getting all those thoughts of what needs to get done out of your head and onto paper. You no longer have to try to remember them, which frees up brain cells (this is how I explain it, anyway). My favorite to-do list is this Daily Docket that I’ve written about many times before. It encourages you to hone in on your three “Most Important Things” to get done each day.
The longer I’ve kept a daily list, the better I’ve become at identifying what is a reasonable number of items I can accomplish in a day, both in terms of my time and energy. There is wisdom in recognizing that there will always be more that needs to get done (or could get done) than you can likely do in 24 hours. This isn’t being pessimistic, it’s being realistic. When I accepted this fact, I found myself freer than I’ve been in a long time. I will focus on what’s important and what I can do, and not worry if I can’t cross every item off on my list. It will be there for me tomorrow.
Habit #3: I Play.
I recently read the book Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time (Amazon link) for my book club. One of the key focuses of the book is the importance of play. We often think of play or leisure as trivial, unnecessary, or only things rich people do. But the truth is, play is so vital for our sense of well-being!
When was the last time you got on a swing next to your child? Or spent a lunch break walking a trail near your place of work? How about picking up that clarinet you used to play in college? Spending an hour learning how to take better photographs? Play can look like so many things, depending on your interests and passions. I regularly carve out time to try a new recipe, walk the dog, or read a book on a topic that interests me. You don’t need to spend hours a day to get the benefits, either. I may have three or four times a week where I can engage in an activity like this. Last night, I pulled out some recipe books to thumb through during my son’s soccer practice. It can be as simple as that.
Habit #4: I (try to!) Plan Ahead.
With kids in school, soccer, and swimming, it’s easy for the days to feel chaotic. But I’ve discovered that there are ways I can contribute to having calmer transitions.
Before the kids get home from school, I figure out what’s for dinner (and start it, if need be). I’ll prep all the items for the after-school activities, snacks, water, and have them ready to go. I know this is just one simple example, but I can’t tell you the difference it’s made! What can you do to plan ahead? If you know that Wednesdays are the busiest day of the week, can you plan on doubling your Tuesday night dinner to have leftovers ready? This planning ahead process can be tackled the same time as you’re making that day’s to-do list.
Habit #5: I Avoid Multi-Tasking as Much as Possible.
We often talk about multi-tasking like it’s this amazing, wonderful quality some people possess. Honestly, I’ve learned that when I multi-task, I end up feeling frazzled and produce sub-par work. Sure, I can respond to emails while doing the laundry, listening to a podcast, and simmering spaghetti sauce on the stove. But I don’t end up feeling like 100% of me was devoted to any one of those tasks! I’ve also noticed that days where I spent more time multi-tasking, I end up feeling frenzied or wondering what actually got done or where the day went.
When possible, I try to avoid multi-tasking. This means, chunking out blocks of time to focus on one task at a time. For instance, I may spend an hour working out. Then a couple hours attending to blog-related posts and items. After that, I may spend some time cleaning my kitchen and then break to take the dog for a walk before returning to work for a couple more hours. Granted, I completely understand that this kind of time management is not possible for everyone. But I do think some of the heart of what I’m sharing can be applied in a number of situations.
A note, on this topic: put the screens down, OK? I truly think having phones and tablets available with us at all times can be a handy tool. However, the constant access to emails, social media, and the general “buzz” of the Internet can be exhausting! Learn to live good chunks of your days unplugged. Trust me, the world will not end.
Habit #6: I Do Nice Things for Myself.
I know it may seem trite, but I have to say, when I take time to care for myself, I feel like everyone benefits! They get a much nicer, calmer version of me than the opposite. When I say nice things, I don’t mean expensive things necessarily. My absolute favorite way to relax is a soak in the tub at the end of a busy day. I may also take time out to paint my nails, meet a friend for coffee, or take myself out to lunch. I’ve also decided recently to hire a (mostly online) running coach so I can pursue something that matters to me on a new level.
Believe it or not, implementing these habits has really cost me little to nothing and hasn’t been a huge investment of time. What it has been is a shift in how I view and spend my time. I can tell you, I spend a LOT less time watching TV or movies (I’d rather workout or go on a walk these days). I also find it’s easier to give myself permission at the end of the day to relax even if there are items left on my to-do list (because I’ve likely spent my best time and energy tackling my Most Important Things).
The result of feeling more calm and less stressed? I feel like I truly enjoy life more, and appreciate the smaller moments.
Now it’s your turn: have you made changes recently to help improve your stress level or enjoy life more? I’d absolutely love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below!