It’s amazing what a bit of direction can bring.
I am not here to give you tips on how to succeed in business or anything of the sort (all of that would be new information to me!). Instead, in this article I will focus on one thing I do know how to do: live and work with minimal stress.
I used to believe work and having people rely on you to complete said work in itself was stressful. Turns out, I am just a serial procrastinator and that’s what made it stressful. I didn’t understand how to use time management to reduce stress and I had a little too much trust in my ability to stay on task...
Like many people, I can’t be trusted to do what is best for myself. I can have loads of time-pressured work to do and “accidentally” end up playing FIFA for three hours. As a result, a little bit of artificial discipline is sometimes necessary.
This is where time management comes in. Procrastination and poor planning always led to periods of high stress when it was time to really get work done. It’s not rocket science, but I found using my time with more intention was necessary to maintain low stress levels.
So how did I get started? Breaking up work into time blocks with definitive beginnings and ends made it far easier to handle mentally. It’s intimidating to approach work with the mindset that you have to do a massive task. Whereas, a set period of three hours of work on a specific task is far easier to digest. And you walk away feeling good that you’ve at least achieved something.
Maybe you have no problem attacking a big project. Personally I prefer to break tasks into blocks, that way I make sure I have time for other important things and never get too overwhelmed. I have found I also get tasks done quicker because I approach them tactically, rather than with brute force at the last minute.
I am able to do this through scheduling. A well-crafted schedule can be like a personal trainer. It creates a personal commitment that you’ve prepared yourself for mentally and often you’ll find you can push you beyond what you thought you were capable of. Plus, you get that feeling of accomplishment afterwards regardless if you didn’t finish the entire project in one sitting.
Not convinced there’s much wrong with living a stressful lifestyle? A bit of stress is good for everyone right? Read on to be slapped in the face with truth.
Work stress is dangerous and unfortunately, normal
Stress is an inevitable part of being an adult and having a job. As an employed person there are expectations you are required to meet and standards to be upheld, which is stressful enough without throwing in the fact that your financial well-being, lifestyle and freedom is almost entirely dependent on your ability to perform.
It may seem like everyone you know is stressed, after all, the working life can be intense and the stakes are high. Being stressed has become the norm, and we just accept that.
However, there are few ailments currently known to humankind that can cause damage in as many different ways to the human mind and body as stress. According to the almighty WebMD, chronic stress can directly cause mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, menstrual problems, impotence, skin issues, and digestive issues . Jeez.
Stress can hurt you everywhere. Don’t you owe it to your future self to try harder to manage it?
Managing stress through the elimination of multitasking
This brings us to the importance of removing multitasking from your work as much as possible.
Multitasking necessitates stress.
In order to use time management to reduce stress, multitasking is the first thing you must stop doing immediately. So close down Facebook in that other tab and come back, I’ll still be waiting.
There is neuroscientific evidence that almost no one is capable of multitasking effectively. Yes, even women. A study by the University of Utah analyzed subjects’ ability to do both a single task and two tasks simultaneously. Subjects were asked to perform OSPAN (memory-based) tasks while driving. Only 2.5% of people experienced no hindrance to their driving ability while also completing OSPAN tasks .
Sounds unproductive right?
In the work setting, having multiple voices and commitments grappling for your time will eventually become overwhelmingly stressful. You may find yourself having trouble reaching deadlines and delivering sub-par work because your mind isn’t focused. Or you may find yourself taking several daily breaks to cry in the bathroom. Or, constantly listening to loud aggressive metal music to hype you up for the shitstorm of a day you have ahead of you.
This compiles stress (or at least raises blood pressure and may damage your hearing). You end up stressed trying to do too many things at once and then become further burdened by poor feedback on the distracted work you produce. This feeling lingers and you may bring this stress home and eventually it seeps into every corner of your life.
Bringing work-related stress home
An aspect of having a stress-free work life is the luxury of not having work on your mind when you’re not on the clock. Going home and having the mental space for your family and friends is important for maintaining a fulfilling life.
Workplace stress can have a negative impact on life outside of work. The Economic Policy Institute studied the impact of irregular work (either under or over-employed, working inconsistent hours) on stress and work-family conflict. Over a quarter of those studied admitted to experiencing work-family conflict, compared to one in ten people that work regular shifts .
This is noteworthy because even if you do work a regular shift, stressing about work at home is likely to lead to family conflict and affect others around you.
How to use time blocking for time management to reduce stress
Time blocking is a strategy for time management to reduce stress that uses designated time slots for specific activities, in order to keep on task.
As former American football player Lou Holtz says, “It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it.” Think of time blocking as my gift to you that can help you lift your load with comfort and carry it as far as you need.
Time blocking has become an invaluable tool for many successful people, as it prevents them from time-wasting and helps them accomplish their goals within a set time frame. Proponents of time blocking include Elon Musk and Bill Gates. It seems they have their lives on track right?
It makes sense for people in the highest demand for meeting time and multiple ventures under their guidance to schedule their day efficiently. Their time is split, and they need to find a way to prevent their attention from becoming monopolized by a single project or person.
However, even if you’re not the CEO of multiple companies, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, and can’t, work as smart as they do. Implementing clarity and focus into your day has an immeasurable effect on both increasing your productivity and reducing your stress level.
Time blocking can be simple, but it requires deliberate planning and great self-awareness. Therefore, it is important to take note of how long certain tasks take and which tasks deserve the most attention. That way you can build a schedule that allocates your time proportionately.
The best way to make sure you are splitting your time effectively is to schedule specific time frames during your day to dedicate yourself completely to your essential tasks.
There are other factors to consider such as peak productivity hours and your personal work endurance. To effectively use time management to reduce stress, you must be aware of what times during the day you are most capable of focusing and how long you can maintain that focus.
Personally, I find I am most productive between the hours of 9-12 in the morning, but I am aware that many people get their best work done late at night once most people are asleep. Just be aware of when you work best, that way you can schedule your more meaningful work during these hours and do admin/less intensive work when your mind is not as focused.
For example, Charles Darwin would break his day up into short bursts of one particular activity to keep his mind stimulated. He would cycle through periods of exercise, food, creative work, and admin-type activities. He would do each of these at least three times daily. This kept both his body and mind sharp, while simultaneously avoiding burnout on one particular task .
On the other hand, you have people like Sigmund Freud, who dedicated his entire morning to admin and then his entire afternoon and evening to creative work, with only a break for dinner. This is someone who had great endurance and needed long stretches of time for deep thinking to produce his best work .
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Learn how you work best and empower yourself via time management to reduce stress.
Daily routines are underrated
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.”
Charles Dickens in David Copperfield
While it may be freeing and whimsical to go about your day without any sort of consistency, working as you feel, getting inconsistent sleep, and eating at all different times of the day, there is value in structure. Living unscheduled can deceive a person into believing they are stress-free, but in reality the stress is just being postponed.
Routines keep us prepared. When living with a routine, there is never a need to stress about what’s for dinner, because you already planned a meal and bought the ingredients during your weekly Monday night shop. Even if you just bought seven packets of ramen noodles, I won’t judge. At least you won’t go hungry. Also, you always get the exercise you need because you’ve scheduled what days and times you intend to go (because you’re guilty about eating all those noodles).
With a little effort and the right calendar app, you can make sure you’re getting the most out of your day and rid yourself of unnecessary worry.
This may sound crazy, but start by scheduling non-work time. After all, this is the time you have the most control over and can mold it to suit your idea of a fulfilling day. Determine how much sleep you need, what times you prefer to eat, and time for leisure activities.
In my final year of university, I came across an idea developed by a sleep consultant, Nick Littlehales, explaining the importance of getting five 90-minute sleeps per night. This is the sleep schedule used by star soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo. This adds up to seven and a half hours of sleep nightly. Littlehales explains that human sleep operates in cycles and at the end of a 90 minute cycle, the body wakes up feeling optimally refreshed .
I incorporated this into my routine during my previously mentioned exam period I’d prefer to forget about but I keep coming back to as it’s the most stressful time for any student. With two weeks off class to dedicate to studying for exams, I needed to find a way to get the most out of revision while using time management to reduce stress. So I began sleeping exactly seven and a half hours every night.
Despite what I claimed above, I had never been a morning person but this sleep schedule completely changed that. I would wake up and get out of bed at my first alarm, feeling refreshed and ready to hit the books. I would study from nine to six, with a one hour lunch break, then go home to cook dinner and go to the gym nearby. Being well-rested and physically active noticeably improved my ability to retain what I was learning and regurgitate it once the time for exams came. It wasn’t that hard either, especially when it became a habit.
According to a study by the European Journal of Psychology, it takes on average, 66 days to properly form a habit. This isn’t a short period of time but it is also very achievable . If I can incorporate this habit even as a weak-minded student, then so can you.
I found the gym extremely important as an energy release to get me thoroughly exhausted before bed and sleep like a rock. After a day of writing out econometric proofs, my body was desperate to move around a little. If I did not do this, I would consistently find myself pacing and hopping around my apartment late at night, much to the chagrin of my downstairs neighbors, I’m sure. There’s people who will tell you to exercise in the morning. I say do whatever works for you, just schedule it to reduce your stress.
Having a set time for food is also important. Eating to a schedule that your digestive system is comfortable with allows for proper digestion and consistent energy levels throughout the day . Personally, I prefer to eat two meals per day between the hours of 12 and 8pm, sometimes with a cheeky snack in between to keep energy levels high (see I do have a wild side). I have come to find out that this is known as intermittent fasting and it is a strategy that many fitness experts have used for a long time. Am I a nutrition science innovator or just poor? You’ll never know.
Terry Crews, aka Sergeant Jeffords from Brooklyn Nine Nine and tough guy from those terrible Expendables movies, has used a scheduled intermittent fasting method for the better part of a decade . If that guy does it and is that jacked in his early 50’s, there must be some merit here surely.
Essentially, consistency is key when it comes to maintaining high energy levels throughout the day. And only a schedule will keep you on track and reduce your stress at the same time.
How to use tech to time-block with ease
Time blocking makes building a routine you can stick to easy. You can’t expect yourself to just remember all the times you’re supposed to do certain activities! Technology is here to help.
There are many online tools available to assist with time blocking. Some of the most popular include, Plan, HourStack, Planyway, TickTick, and SkedPal. Of course, all online calendars can be used for time blocking - these specialized tools just make it easier.
HourStack is probably the most novel of these tools, as it allows you to set timers and track how long you spend on certain tasks without ever leaving the app. However, like the other apps I have mentioned, you will have to sign up for a fairly pricey monthly plan to get the most out of them.
If you don’t feel like allocating part of your budget to calendar extensions (that has to be a new category on anyone’s budget planner!), I would recommend using CalApp by shareavailability.com. Why? Because CalApp is the best free option I have found for sticking to a time-blocked schedule.
CalApp syncs locally on your computer with any online calendar. I use it with Google Calendar. To use CalApp for time blocking, all you need to do is schedule your day on your preferred calendar application as usual and CalApp will help you stick to it.
I use CalApp for time management to reduce stress because it allows me to share my availability without interfering with my daily time blocking template. One click sharing your availability with CalApp will prevent others from scheduling meetings with you during times you have designated for your work because the app instantly creates a list of your availability that can be copied into Email, LinkedIn message, Facebook Messenger, wherever, without giving the recipient access to your calendar.
Why do I do this? Because sharing and giving access to your calendar in the conventional manner is detrimental to time blocking because not everyone will see your work choices as valid and will try to steal the time you’ve allocated for the activities they believe are most important.
This way no one will be able to see that your scheduled hour for “deep work” is the reason you can’t meet with them.
Maybe you don’t want your boss to know that the two hours you have blocked on your schedule are for secretly streaming the footy at your desk. Sometimes it’s best to keep some things to yourself if you can.
Trust me, privacy and security in your calendar will make a significant difference when it comes to time blocking.
CalApp will provide you with the scheduling independence you need to get the most out of your work and reduce your stress, for free.
Now, with all of this knowledge and a fantastic scheduling tool, start using time management to reduce your stress today!
 Watson, Jason & Strayer, David. (2010). Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability. Psychoeconomic bulletin & review. 17. 479-85. 10.3758/PBR.17.4.479