Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale completely. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale completely. Repeat a couple more times and then notice how much quieter your mind is and how much more relaxed your body is.

This tried and true stress buster works! I have found myself a bit disconcerted and overwhelmed this week – continuing our travel well into the summer after coming off our “normal” spring busy, squeezing a vacation in there over the 4th of July holiday, or all or none of the above. However, when I noticed it (and one of those moments was when I realized it was my turn to write our blog this week and it wasn’t on my work-to-do list!), I stopped and thought about what I needed to do to gain some clarity and energy around my priorities so I could get and remain productive.

The first thing I thought of was “breathe.” That is always the best place to start and a technique we teach to reduce pressure in our lives and as a centering technique to help you manage your time. And, since many of our CPA friends seem to always be managing key deadlines and client commitments that can cause pressure, I want to share a few other stress reducers and time management “must do’s” this week:

  1. Stop and prioritize your plan – Take 15-30 minutes to stop and identify your priorities. I get resistance to this when coaching because most people feel like they can get a lot finished in the 15-30 minutes it takes to document what they have to do. But without planning, we just continue to be reactive. I’m reminded of a quote from Stephen R. Covey in his book Put First Things First, “The real choice is when it comes to Quadrant 2. We can choose to spend time here or not but Quadrant 2 is the key to getting things under control.” Covey’s Quadrant 2, or the Quadrant of activities where we’re proactive, includes those activities that are important but not urgent and includes planning. Start by making a list (a short list of two or three things) that HAVE to get done today and a slightly longer list of what has to get done this week. Then you’ll know where to start instead of just reacting to whatever is in your email, voicemail, on your desk or at your door. You will also likely identify things that you should STOP doing – either not do at all or delegate to someone else, which will free up some time for those quadrant 2 activities.
  2. Get and give by-when dates – One of the reasons it is difficult to stop and prioritize your plan is because we don’t have clear by-when dates. I’m not sure how to prioritize my commitments – or help others prioritize theirs – without by-when dates. If you want more clarity about what you should be working on, start asking for and giving by-when dates whenever you accept an assignment or give one. If a by-when isn’t given to you, ask for one, or better yet, suggest one that works for you. For more on this topic, read my blog, Produce the Unimaginable – Give By When’s!
  3. Organize your space - Invest time and energy to create surroundings that will support you and encourage productivity. Organizing your space weekly promotes focus and productivity and reduces distractions and a feeling of overwhelm. This includes your physical office space and desk as well as your email in-box, computer desktop and online folders. It helps to decrease clutter by filing and classifying things in your in-box to prevent stacks of “stuff” sitting on your desk or your desktop. I often organize my office and do a little filing on Friday afternoons before I close for the weekend or Saturday morning when I have an hour of quiet time. I will spend time cleaning out my inbox (which also ensures I am on top of everything!) when I fly or on Sunday evenings as I prepare my weekly work-to-do list.
  4. Schedule time for yourself, family and outside pursuits to achieve balance – even during busy periods! This really takes practice working in Quadrant 2 because often those “urgent and important” demands can easily derail us. However, when we let ourselves get derailed too often, we can become resentful and irritable, leaving us with less energy and lower productivity – and not much fun to be around! To combat this, make sure you’re not giving up on practices you’ve had in place or consider taking on a new one that is important to you, such as:
    • Exercising and/or engaging in relaxation techniques – be militant on this one!
    • Eating more healthfully
    • Limiting caffeine and sugar
    • Avoiding alcohol and smoking - especially important during the work week and on business trips
    • Maintaining a consistent sleep routine
    • Scheduling your “maintenance” appointments, such as regular physicals and eye doctor and dentist appointments
    • Eating dinner with your family (even if it means logging back into the office when the kids are in bed or working on their homework)
    • Scheduling a date night – with your spouse, children, friends or whomever is important to you!

Managing pressure and adopting a positive, can-do outlook requires ongoing attention and regular practice of these strategies. I have found that it is the only way to have it all! Now, I’m going for a run!

What would you be willing to undertake to manage the persistent pressures, better manage your time and gain more energy and productivity by doing so? Please share by posting a comment - I’d love to hear your ideas!