Forget stress at work – it’s time to work smart

Writing things down to remember them is sheer lunacy; writing things down to forget them makes much more sense.

We are busier, more stressed, more under pressure to perform, and less able to concentrate than ever before. We are running around with our heads full of lists of things we must remember to do.

As soon as we open our notebooks, diaries, and inboxes, we are overwhelmed by a deluge of things we are trying not to forget.

The CIPD Annual Survey Report on Absence Management published in July 2008 stated that “stress is the number one cause of long term absence for non-manual employees” and the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission told us on National Stress Awareness Day in November 2007 that the UK had lost 14 million working days to stress during the previous year, costing in excess of £530 million.

What we need to do is reduce our ‘mind traffic’. My idea to free us up, so that we can stop worrying about forgetting the things we need to remember, is simple: write things down to FORGET them!

We can only ever do one thing at a time – if, that is, we want to do it properly. This means freeing our minds of all the things we are not doing at that moment in order to be able to do what we are doing well.

The conventional wisdom is that, when you know you have to produce, say, a sales report for next Thursday’s team meeting, you dutifully add this to your list of things you must remember. Every time you refer to this list of things to remember to do, you are reminded that producing a sales report before next Thursday is something you must not forget.

But being constantly reminded of how many things you must not forget increases your stress levels and distracts you from other pressing priorities. It simply reminds you how impossibly busy you are!

Writing things down to remember them is, well, depressing!

Is there a better way? Yes: date activation, or, in other words, writing things down to forget them!

Date activation means that, when you are tasked with producing a sales report for next Thursday’s team meeting, you decide how long you need to work on producing the report and when you will do it. Having made these decisions, you use whatever system you prefer (say, Microsoft Outlook) to create a task on that date for that period of time; then FORGET about it and get on with what you need to do now.

work Stress

When the time comes to produce the sales report, your system will simply tell you. And, if you have used all the available date activation features, you’ll not only see the task but also your notes, together with any relevant documents, emails and useful contacts. This gives you total recall with no need to scrabble about looking for the things you need to complete the task.

Using date activation effectively is a stress-free way to manage your workload. You can look at any given day in the future and see not only what you have committed to do on that day (appointments and tasks), but also how much time you think it will all take. If you have over-committed yourself by taking on 14 hours’ worth of work with only eight hours in which to do it, you have early warning and can take action to resolve the crisis, perhaps by prioritising or delegating.

Over-committing on your workload will always mean under-delivering somewhere else – at home, perhaps, where your partner and/or children will receive short shrift, or in other important areas of your role.

Date activation and workload management really does allow you to reduce your stress, allows you to negotiate deadlines from a far stronger position and will prevent you from over-promising and under-delivering.

I can’t promise that you won’t have any more crazy days at work, but using date activation will certainly help you reduce last minute panics and crisis workloads and give you a genuine sense of accomplishment and order. / Katie H.

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