There are many things school didn’t teach us. The importance of mental health, budgeting, time management, stress management, and so much more. Maybe that’s why being a #responsibleadult is so hard – we have no clue about what to do to live a balanced life. Quarter-life crisis is real. We feel stressful about the unknown future, and we get overwhelmed by never-ending responsibilities added to our shoulders.
Whether you have a 9-6 job, or multiple part-time jobs and projects going on at the same time, you surely have experienced this: there is not enough time. You never finish all the tasks, nor have time to just chill after a long day. You feel exhausted all the time. Physically and mentally. I certainly have been there. I was a constantly unsatisfied accountant who craved for something more in life. I started posting handpan covers on my YouTube channel 3 years ago, and soon realised the importance of setting up systems and boundaries so that I didn’t get more stressed by different projects on hand. After I ditched my corporate job and went back to full time studies, I relied heavily on my productivity systems and self-care routines so that I didn’t collapse from demanding schoolwork, casual tutoring jobs and endless tasks as a first time entrepreneur.
Stress vs Pressure 🤯
First things first: it is important to distinguish between stress and pressure.
Why? Because it involves different feelings, hence different responses and tactics.
In a nutshell, Hendrie Weisinger, a world renowned psychologist summarised below:
Stress refers to the situation of too many demands and not enough resources – time, money, energy – to meet them.
Feelings related to stress include overload, too many tasks involved but not enough time. When you’re under stress, you have plenty of choices. There are many ways to reduce stress, which I will discuss below.
On the other hand,
Pressure is a situation in which you perceive that something at stake is dependent on the outcome of your performance.
Pressure involves anxiety to have to produce a specific result. Like before a job interview or when you have to get on stage to pitch. When you’re under pressure, you have to devote all your time and energy into that one thing as if your life depends on it. You don’t have choice. It is like someone points a gun at you and you “have to” do your best. Can you imagine how much extra burden you carry if you operate under pressure every single day?
A good example would be exams. Your results determine which university or job you can apply for, that’s why you feel the pressure to perform well. Your future depends on the outcome of the exam. And you feel stressed because you don’t have enough time to study. That forces you to prioritise your tasks and revisit topics that you are the most unfamiliar with first.
A certain amount of pressure can boost our performance. On the other hand, a certain amount of stress can increase our productivity as well with increased physiological or mental arousal. For sure, too much of anything is bad for you.
Let’s discuss the choices you have when you are under stress. Feel free to try all these different stress management tips and find out what works for you.
1 Respond > React
We often make decisions based on emotions. Remember those rash decisions you made? (Shhh… getting drunk after a breakup, reckless shopping after you got a job offer) Often times we react to situations too quickly without considering the consequences.
That’s why we want to respond, rather than to react: when we are under stress, it’s better to pause (taking a deep breath always helps), calm down, and start coming up with solutions. You need a clear, rational mind to prioritise your tasks and allocate your time and energy accordingly, instead of reacting to the situations and chasing after those endless “urgent” tasks. In any circumstance, there are always a few things that truly move the needles of the whole project.
Think, then respond. Not to react. When you are on reaction mode, you often get more stressed because you can’t seem to utilise resources well.
This is for your mindset and mental health. We all need to regulate our thoughts and emotions on a regular basis. If we suppress too much of our feelings – or in this case, stress – one day it will burst like a volcano.
Develop your own healthy, routine “venting system” to let it all out. Your thoughts, emotions and behaviours are perhaps the only things you have almost full control of.
Journaling is my favourite habit to vent, rant, do brain dump, and to document my life generally. I easily spot patterns and triggers from what I wrote down. For you, it might be drawing, doodling, or recording your own rants via voice note.
If you want to give journaling a go but get overwhelmed by all the tools and advice – digital or analog, bullet journal or blank page etc., go check out this video here where I talk about everything about journaling and how you can start building and maintaining this habit. I have included my own Notion journaling template there as well, if you fancy checking it out.
Need I say more? There is plenty of evidence on how music can affect our brains and bodies. It regulates our moods, boosts our productivity, and helps us relax when we find it hard to.
My favourite de-stress music includes lofi music, classical pieces and of course, handpan music. I usually pop the playlist on my HomePod, dim the light, and read on my bed as part of my night time routine. One of the best feelings ever.
4 Elimination and Delegation
Let’s get to the more practical techniques of stress management. Following the definition listed above, stress is largely related to time management. As Nir Eyal famously said, time management is pain management. We procrastinate and we get distracted because we want to avoid the discomfort of work. That applies to our work, assignments, and even our workouts. We always hear about people complain they have no time to work out, but they do spend a lot of time scrolling through social media and watching TV.
I believe that productivity isn’t about doing more things with less time, but doing the right things with current resources. It’s a bonus if you have fun in the process.
So, the first step is to eliminate unnecessary tasks. Spending half an hour online trying to find a pair of leggings that would match your trainers isn’t the necessary task to start working out. You get my point. If some tasks are not possible to eliminate, try delegating them instead. Ask your family members to buy protein shakes for you in the next grocery trip. There you go, another half an hour saved.
5 Minimum Viable Dose
Full credits to Tim Ferriss. When I start a new project, I always ask myself: what’s the “good enough” standard and how do I use the least amount of time and energy possible to get it done Bonus tip: apply the 80/20 rule on your planning and prioritisation process:
- What are the 20% of things I can do to achieve 80% of the result?
If you are a bit of a perfectionist and you think you need it to be perfectly done, that’s a sign of pressure – something to do with your performance.
6 Set Up Systems
Build solid systems to sort out your priorities and get organised so that you don’t get overwhelmed by all the tasks on hand. Notion is the backbone of my productivity system. I use task list and project list to track all my progress, and I use timeblocking on Google calendar to boost my concentration.
The key here is control. I love having a birds’ eye view of everything I’m doing. The more control you have, the less stress you experience because now you know where you time, effort and energy goes.
7 Plan ahead and start early
There’s one trap I fall into over and over again: we always overestimate our abilities and underestimate time needed for tasks. That’s why we always wonder where has time gone. Using a solid system, you can plan ahead and start doing the damn thing early. I used to be a deadline fighter – and it’s NOT fun. Start the important tasks earlier. You won’t regret it.
8 Small doses of rest (and workout)
I never really tried the pomodoro technique myself, but over the years what worked for me is to inject small doses of rest throughout the day instead of trying to stay productive and focused for 5 hours non-stop.
There are 3 things that I incorporated into my daily routine:
20-minute daily outdoor walk
- I do this every morning, 30 minutes after waking up. Direct sunlight gives me more energy and momentum to achieve my daily goals. I personally am not a fan of doing vigorous workouts early in the morning (I used to book early morning boxing classes back in the days, but lockdown changed everything) since I realised I am so much more creative in the morning and would like to get my writing and creative tasks done first.
Good quality breaks every hour
- Timeblocking means having blocks of deep work throughout the day. Every hour or so, I take a 10-minute break. Good quality breaks mean that I’m not scrolling through social media, but refilling my water bottle, or playing my favourite tunes with my guitar. Refresh your mind and body, not taking in information you don’t need!
Early evening workouts
- Since the lockdown I have developed this routine of doing my home workout (with Centr #notsponsored) at around 5pm to signal that it’s the end of my work day. After that I can chill and work on my hobbies.
I believe that rest is part of the productivity equation and we should never sacrifice our physical or mental health in our journey.
Final Words 💬
Although we might not have learnt anything about stress management in school, we can still experiment and find the system and lifestyle that best suit us.
One last mindset shift for you regarding stress management:
Live life sincerely, not seriously.
Life is a fun journey, enjoy it. 🎢
Bonus For You 💛
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