In corporate America, especially, people often rise to the top by learning how to overcome stress.

—In corporate America, especially, people often rise to the top by learning how to overcome stress.

People often create great stress by underestimating the length of time activities will take to complete. Improving your time estimation skills will help you to handle a highly demanding and potentially stressful workload.

Take Control

Time management helps you to reduce long-term stress by giving you direction when you have too much work to do. It puts you in control of where you are going, and helps you to increase your productivity. By eliminating time-wasting and low-yield activities you will be making the best use of your time, you will enjoy your current role more, and will find that you are able to allocate more time to relaxing outside work and enjoying life. Being disciplined in your approach to your working life will reduce your stress levels.

Assess the person interrupting you and what it is they are asking. If one or both are important to you it makes sense to say yes; otherwise, learn to say no.

5 Minute Fix

Others may be unaware that they are adding to your stress. Don’t just say “yes” when you‘re already overloaded.

  • Prepare some polite but assertive ways of turning the extra work away.

  • Negotiate to defer or reprioritize work for the person asking.

  • Ask for some extra resources or time to carry out the work.

Techniques to Practise

In order to know how productively you are using your time, you need to know just how much your time is worth.

If you are in the employment of someone else, it is important to understand how much your employer is paying for your time and the resources you use, and how much profit you are expected to generate. If you are working for yourself, you should have a good idea of how much income you need to cover the expenditure of your time.

  • Work these figures back to an hourly rate.

  • Looking at your workload, estimate the value to the organization of each task you perform.

  • Using your hourly rate, work out the rough cost of each task you carry out.

  • Where you have a choice, concentrate on tasks with a value greater than the calculated value of your time.

  • Whenever possible, eliminate or delegate tasks that have a lower value than your time.

Assess How You Spend Your Time

An activity log, in which you simply record what you are doing throughout the day, is an important tool for reviewing your use of time. It helps you to understand how you use your time, so that you can identify and eliminate time-wasting and unproductive habits. This gives you more time to do your work and increases your efficiency, making it more likely that you will be able to leave work on time and have good quality time to yourself to relax. When you start keeping your log you will probably be surprised at how much time you waste every day. Eliminating any unproductive activities will put you back in control.


Cutting out time wasting often involves saying “No” to people. Whenever you have to do this, be courteous and explain why.

Compile and Use Your To Do List

When problems seem overwhelming, or there is a huge number of demands on your time, keeping a to do list will help you to establish priorities and gives you a starting point for negotiating deadlines.

  • Break down large tasks into their component elements. If these still seem large, break them down again. Do this until all tasks are shown as manageable pieces of work.

  • Run through the tasks and allocate priorities from A (very important) to F (unimportant). Base your assessment of priority on the criteria of urgency and importance.

  • Consider the results of your job analysis when prioritizing your list. Tasks that contribute to your job objectives should rank as high priority.

  • If too many tasks have a high priority ranking, run through the list again and demote the less important ones. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in order of priority.

  • Now, work your way through the tasks on your list in order of priority. By doing this, you will do the most important jobs first and will therefore make the best use of your time.

Establishing priorities will make your workload more manageable and will reduce your stress, so write down a complete list of all the tasks that face you now.

Analyze Your Activity Log

Every time you change activities, note the activity’s duration. You may decide to integrate your activity log with your stress diary. Do this for several days and then analyze the log. You may be alarmed to see the amount of time you spend doing low value jobs such as reading direct mail or newspapers, browsing interesting but unhelpful web pages, talking to colleagues, waiting for meetings to begin, travelling, etc.

Using a template like the one shown here, make a note of all the things you do each day, as you do them.

Use a To Do List

Once you know which tasks are most valuable, and which time-wasting activities can be eliminated, you can organize and prioritize your workload to ensure that you concentrate on the most important, highest-yield work. Keeping a to do list is a basic working skill that helps you to deliver work reliably, without letting tasks “slip through the cracks”. This obviously helps in reducing the stress that rightly comes from failing to do something important!

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