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Women stressed with dropped icecreamDo you ever find yourself in a state of perpetual busy-ness? How about that feeling of constant doing without getting much done? Or maybe you take on so many tasks and responsibilities that each day starts to feel like the same never-ending string of “things.” And when someone asks how you’ve been or what you’re up to, your reply is almost always “busy.”

But what are you actually busy with, and is the busyness propelling you towards anything, or just filling your time?

Often, these questions come up at times of high stress or anxiety, when our workload becomes too much and we reach a threshold. Sometimes, major or minor breakdowns can occur, letting us know we’re taking on too much and can’t continue to function within the same patterns.

When this happens, it can sometimes feel like an “all-or-nothing” solution is the only way to go. We can either keep going and burn ourselves out, or cancel everything and start from scratch. Lots of things come in to play when it comes to making decisions in times of stress, but what’s often very difficult is simply being effective.

Being effective

Being effective doesn’t mean taking everything on and refusing to let anything go. It doesn’t mean sticking to tasks or plans with a stubbornness that often results in stress. Being effective means doing what’s needed to get you through a stressful time. It means looking at your current responsibilities and deciding which ones can be postponed, delegated to someone else or eliminated completely.

Sometimes we get so attached to our duties that we can’t see how unimportant some of them are. Perhaps we fear that the only way to get something done correctly is to do it ourselves. Or maybe we take so much pride in being independent and self-sufficient that we don’t allow ourselves to ask for help. In these situations, our emotions have taken control of our decision-making process.

When we take on too much, we start thinking about our limitations as a person. We think to ourselves, “If only I were better at time management,” or “If only I didn’t take on so much,” or “If only I could say no once in a while!” Emotions can make us spiral downward to the point at which we become paralyzed and end up doing nothing at all.

Taking emotions out of decision-making

So, how do we take our emotions out of our decision-making when we find ourselves in periods of high stress or high demand? How can we sort our tasks based on their real priority and allow ourselves to let the unimportant things go? When we listen to our guilt, suddenly everything is top-priority and nothing gets done!

If you look at your life with honest eyes, can you point out the things that aren’t necessary to do at the moment, those things that contribute to your perpetual “busy” state without adding any value?

The Eisenhower Matrix
Eisenhower Matrix

I first came across the Eisenhower Matrix in one of my favourite blogs, “Wait But Why.” To start using this matrix, just take any task you come up with and put it under one of two categories: urgent or important.

Using the box to the right is the perfect way to take your mess of “things” and simplify them. Without this distinction between the urgent and the important, it’s inevitable that we’ll find ourselves spinning in circles, worrying about our responsibilities. Then, we’ll become unable to handle any of them effectively.

The more often we make choices about our workload based on the box, the easier this’ll become and the more confident we’ll feel when faced with challenges. Over time, the emotions that arise will be less intense, and we’ll have reassurance from past experiences that saying no to something or putting it off won’t result in catastrophe.

In fact, the more we practice using this technique, the better we’ll become at handling stress in general. It’s an exercise in emotional and mental self-regulation just as much as it is a time management skill, and both require practice so that positive habits can develop.

«RELATED READ» MANAGING STRESS: 3 techniques to help you recognize triggers and overcome anxiety»

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