Three time management strategies to reduce anxiety and take back control

David McCrae | 29th July 2016

In the process of setting myself up as a sole trader I have learnt one vital lesson: managing your time effectively. Time is our most precious resource. You cannot beg, borrow or steal extra time. In my desperation to set up my business I worked hard, not smart. I experienced panic attacks, didn’t exercise for 4 weeks and developed rashes and sleeping problems all because I was not managing my time effectively.

So if you have had similar challenges: if your fitness is in decline, if your stress and anxiety levels are painfully high, if you can’t find the rest you deserve, then it’s time to look at how you are managing that most precious resource. Allow me to outline three strategies that will allow you to regain autonomy, restore your emotional equilibrium and impress your colleagues and employers.

1. Morning Strategy

How many of you dive straight into the black hole of the inbox first thing in the day? For so many people their phone is shoved in their face from the moment they wake up, their browser homepage set to email or social media. This makes us reactive, not proactive. You become more concerned about other people’s agenda, rather than your own.

So what I want you to do is take 15-20 minutes each morning, either when you wake up or first get into work, to plan ahead. What are the steps required to complete projects? Who do you need to speak to today? What are the most important tasks you need to do to get ahead? This snippet of strategy saves a whole lot of procrastination later down the line.

2. Deep Work

How many of you jump from task to task, from conversation to conversation during your day’s work? When our concentration is broken, it takes 15-20 minutes to regain the full level of concentration that we had before we were interrupted. With our multi-sensory environments nowadays, the question is: are you ever working at your optimal cognitive capacity?

So what I want you to do is set up “Deep Work” periods, where you focus solely on one task. Shut the door, take the phone of the hook and put the headphones in. Aim for a period of 45-50 minutes followed by a break of 10 minutes. When we achieve these periods of intense engagement, we boost our productivity and get into “flow states”. Flow states are a psychological phenomenon you may recognise by its colloquial term of being “in the zone”. Being in flow is considered to be a key component of happiness and flourishing.

3. Recognise the difference between “Urgent” and “Important”

Stephen Covey highlights this distinction in his wonderful book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. A ringing phone is urgent, an unread email is urgent, a to-do list is urgent, but are they really important? Are they going to advance your success and happiness? If the phone call is important, they will leave a message. An email will wait patiently until it’s answered. Most of the things we put on a to-do list are easy procrastination tasks to make us feel good for crossing them off.

A sense of urgency is what raises our stress and anxiety. By removing ourselves from this urgent need to respond to stimuli as soon as possible, we want to play smart and raise our satisfaction and fulfilment by working on what’s important. This is something you can do in your morning strategising. Seek to get into Deep Work, rather than Urgent Work.

You are the master and servant of your time. You choose how to spend it, but you also have to respect it. In our overstimulated modern world, I believe time management is even more essential if we want to get things done and live happily and successfully. Ironically you may have read this blog as a form of procrastination, but now I want you to get smart. Take that time to plan in the mornings. I have a journal specifically set aside for this but an A4 piece of paper will suffice. Plan ahead at least two Deep Work periods for projects that are really important. Every time you sit down to do a task, or agree to take one on, take a moment to consider whether it is urgent or important. Do these three things, and you will take back control of your activity, feel more relaxed, and actually get more done!