zen habits : breathe

Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess

By Leo Babauta

If you find yourself rushing from task to task, worried that you don’t have time to do everything …

If you are feeling a high amount of stress and are just overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do …

You might try doing a Stress Assess.

It’s something I just did for myself, because I woke up and had a million things to do, and another million things swarming around in my head. I lay there in bed for 20 minutes, just thinking of all the things I needed to do, and some problems that were stressing me out.

And then I decided to make a list: everything in my life that’s on my mind or causing me some stress. My projects, but also little requests and financial tasks and personal problems that need my mental space. It was great to have the list written out, so I could see everything instead of having them all swirl around in my head.

Once I had a list, I made a small note next to each one — what I was going to do to resolve them. This immediately made me feel better.

Then I started taking action: I eliminated some things, canceled others, postponed others, and decided to do what I could to resolve the remaining problems.

I cleared space on my schedule for the remaining things, and lifted a huge burden off myself.

What a relief!

A Stress Assess is not a tool that will end all your stress, nor teach you how to deal with stress. But it is a good, quick way to relieve a lot of the things that are causing you to rush around, to feel like you don’t have enough time, and to lose focus.

How to Do the Stress Assess

Here’s the method:

  1. Make a list. Put everything that’s on your mind, that’s causing you stress, on one list (text document or paper list): current or upcoming projects, small tasks, errands, chores, trips, relationship problems, parties, meetings, holiday plans, shopping you need to do, emails that are weighing on your mind, a load of incoming requests, etc. No need to order them, just throw everything on the list. It doesn’t need to be complete — as you think of other things, you can add them.
  2. Make notes. Put a little note next to each item — can you eliminate the item? Can you ask someone to cancel? Can you get out of a commitment? Can you just let something go? Can you postpone something until you have more time? Can you ask someone else to do it or get help? Or is this a high-priority task that needs to go on your Must Do List today or tomorrow? Does it deserve a block on your schedule? Can you block off some time today to churn through the smaller tasks on the list? Also: do you need to have a conversation with someone, to resolve a conflict that’s bothering you? Just make quick notes next to each, for how you’ll resolve the item.
  3. Prefer elimination. If you can get the item off the list, try to cancel, eliminate, delegate, or at least postpone. Try to clear up space, so that you have less on your plate. Take a few minutes now to email or call people to cancel or postpone. This will give you the mental and time space you need.
  4. Resolve to resolve. For the rest of the items that aren’t eliminated or postponed, make time to deal with them. Block off time in your schedule to do your high-priority tasks, to resolve issues, to churn through the smaller tasks that can’t be eliminated.

Note: If you don’t know how to resolve an item because it seems too big or complex … try breaking it down. It might actually be 3-4 items instead of one big one, and each of those items might be easier to resolve.

This entire process might take you 20 minutes, or a little longer if you don’t make quick decisions. But it’s worth the extra time, because you’ll be clearing up space and getting your head straight. You’ll be relieving yourself of burdens, and finding focus. That’s worth 20 minutes of your life.


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