By Christina Carson-Sacco, Psy.D.
I think most people would say they’d like to be more productive, but also would love to be less stressed. As we are looking at a new year, it’s a good time to think about ways we can do this.
First, I’d like you to think about the roles you play in your life. Is it as a business owner? Parent? Partner? Community activist? Friend? Now, in light of that role, answer this question, “What’s my Mission Statement?” Draft your mission statement and write it down.
- What do I do?
- Who do I do it for?
- How are they better off because of me?
- What do I want them to feel?
Why do you need a mission statement? It keeps you on track. For example, if you’re thinking of yourself in your role as an activist helping homeless families, your mission statement might be, “I will increase awareness of homelessness in our county and support organizations that are providing shelter for displaced families.” If an opportunity to assist abused animals comes up, while you think it’s a very worthy cause, it does not fit with your mission statement, so you might delegate this task to another person, but not let it dilute your resources or take up your energy. Look at the questions above when examining whether or not to do something to test whether it fits with your mission statement for a particular role. This will keep you focused and help you to say “no” to requests that might distract or detract from your goals.
Next, how do we tackle those pesky to-do lists? Having lists of your tasks is a helpful way to organize and keep track of what needs to get done. Hopefully, you’re crossing tasks off on a daily basis. What many people are challenged by are the tasks that never seem to get done. Let’s take a moment to examine those tasks, by putting them into this chart. This will help you to examine why the task is never completed.
For example, a task might be “organize my financial records.” The obstacles might be “need to get files from work.” You can then choose to either get the files or maybe ask someone at work to pull them together for you. Putting tasks on this chart can help clarify the obstacles, making it easier to decide how to handle them.
Some tasks have bigger obstacles, though. Beware of the “shoulds.” Is there a task that is on your list merely because you feel you should do it? However, you don’t really want to do it; you just think you should. For example, maybe one of your never-completed tasks is “Sign up to coach my child’s soccer team.” You may not really want to do that, but you feel you should because you believe “a good parent coaches their child’s team.” Examining that belief and making a conscious decision will help you to make a choice to either do it or remove it from your list. Be careful; the “shoulds” can be draining. You don’t need to do everything you feel you should do. For example, an incomplete task could be “fix things around the house.” You may believe “it’s frivolous to pay others to do household chores” or “responsible adults take care of these things,” but you never complete these tasks. Seeing them on your list could makes you feel drained or like you’re failing. It may be beneficial to either take some of these tasks off of your list or to hire someone else to do them.
Another other reason some tasks never get done is that we have fear connected to them. Looking at your never-completed to-do items, are any of them incomplete because there is some fear holding you back? For example, one of your tasks might be “go to the gym regularly.” It’s easy to think that you’re not crossing that off your list because you don’t have enough time. However, if you pause to consider a possible fear, maybe the roadblock is really, “I’m afraid that I won’t be very strong and will embarrass myself at the gym.” Identifying and facing these fears head on can help you overcome them.
Third, being productive and reducing your stress means taking good care of yourself. Remember, while some people may boast about how much they are doing, there is no pride in being busy. Being “busy for busy’s sake” can get out of control, feel overwhelming, and at times make you feel powerless over your life. Be conscious of how you’re filling your days and when you can say “no” to tasks. Ask for help when you need it.
Self-care must be on your to-do list. If your friend said they were feeling really stressed out, what advice would you give them? Treat yourself as well as you would your best friend. Doing these things regularly will help you manage your stress:
- Sleep 8+hours
- Eat 3+ nutritious meals
- Go outside a little each day
- Unplug from technology for portions of each day by setting designated work times and space
- Exercise or just move
- Avoid too much caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
- Create a good support system
- Remember to care for yourself before caring for others; are you at the top of your priority list?
If you are struggling with any of these tasks like focusing, managing your life, overcoming fears, or any of the self-care items, a psychologist can help. While reading this may have added to your to-do list, the goal is to improve how productive you feel while keeping stress in check.
Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a psychologist who has been helping children, teens, adults and families in private practice for 17 years. She specializes in anxiety, depression, parenting, school challenges, relationships, and life transitions. Learn more at www.TheCenterInWarrington.com