How to lower stress?

I am horrible at managing and controlling my stress.  My number one reason for stress is I take on too many things.  Then instead of working on my to-do list, my brain finds distractions!

Sounds familiar?

I have a big fan of making a to-do list, I have tried to applied various practices that I have read online and have failed in one fashion or another.  One of the methods my manager told me once if you have “more then 10 items on your to-do list, you are doing it wrong!”  The second was to learn to prioritize your to-do list (duh).

Both great advice, but I failed horribly.

I tried separating lists by personal and work, that also failed.  Because then I would unintentionally ignore one or another.

So around mid-year last year I really start thinking about how to prioritize my to-do list?  I came up with the following matrix.

Severity/Priority High Medium Low
Critical      
Urgent      
Important      

But even after doing this, I failed to classify my tasks, because I kept putting so much into High/Critical bucket.  I failed the first advice, “more than 10 items”.  So I took this matrix one step further to understand what do each of the severities mean to me?  What does priority mean to me?

Severity Brain Storming

I felt severity should address my core metrics, these are the metrics I want to live by and bound to my principals.  As such, I defined critical tasks, as something that impacts #Trust. That is if I don’t complete this task, it affects someone Trust in me, can be my customers, my boss, my colleagues, friends, or family. Next, I define urgent tasks, as something that impacts #Credibility.  Last but not least, I define responsibilities as important because I have to or want to do them; these tasks don’t have an impact on anyone else expect me; they are #NoScreamers.

Priority Brain Storming

Next, I wanted to define what does High, Medium, or Low mean?  I defined task in high, I will have #Regret if I do not complete it.  The medium was #NaggingFeeling and last low as #ScoreCard.

Now my matrix is complete, as below.

Severity/Priority High
#Regret
Medium
#NaggingFeeling
Low
#ScoreCard
Critical
#Trust

1

2

4

Urgent
#Credibility

3

5

7

Important
#NoScreamers

6

8

9

Now my matrix is complete, what order should I complete the tasks? When I put that’s in each of these buckets, I rarely put due-date.  I am not a fan of using due-date unless required (i.e., paying bills).

Action Plan

  1. Complete to-do tasks with a due date, following bucket priority numbers.
  2. Complete to-do tasks with no due-date, following bucket priority numbers.

Doing this allowed me to really focus on the Critical/High tasks and drive on completion.  Thus lower my stress.

The next thing I learned about recently was the “Pomodoro Technique.”  Applying this to the above, I expand my to-do regiment like below.

Action Plan V2

  1. Grab an action item from the list following one of the criteria below:
    1. Complete to-do tasks with a due date, following bucket priority numbers.
    2. Complete to-do tasks with no due-date, following bucket priority numbers.
  2. Work on the item using the “Pomodoro Technique.” After completing the 4-cycles of the “Pomodoro Technique,” ask yourself if you need to continue working on the current ask or need a break to jump to another task?

By doing #2, I can ask myself if my brain needs a break? I tend to obsess over my work and forget to let my brain rest.

Anyhow following this routine, I been able to drop my #Critical/High tasks down to only four tasks.  That has never happened in my nine years in Microsoft!

—-

  1. My intention is not to steal anyone’s work.  I created this for myself from a countless number of articles and online advice on the to-do list management over the nine years.  I shared this technique with a friend; he told me about similar work.  Namely, “The Eisenhower Matrix,” this is very similar to that, so giving credit where due.
  2. Second I ran across the “Pomodoro Technique” by complete fluke.  I just was looking for a timer application and found “Focus To-Do”.  Learning bout this technique really helped me get into a hyper-focus state when working.  I keep a notepad in front of me while working unless it is break time.  I write down everything else to let me not get distracted from the current task.  I control all urges to step away from my mission until my break comes.
  3. Last I use Microsoft To-Do to manage all this to make my life a bit easier.

—-

I wrote this post after getting into an “off-topic discussion” with my client.  She encourages me to write about this, so here it is.  Maybe it will help someone else minimize their stress!

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