Hans Selye, the Austrian endocrinologist is credited with introducing the word stress into our modern lexicon. Selye once said ‘it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.’ For busy managers, the key to reducing stress levels lies in their ability to manage their time better, or as Tricia Cunningham puts it, ‘to think differently about their workloads.’ Here Tricia discusses the link between time management and stress management, and the time management tool that puts you in control.

Tricia, how can managers organise their workloads more effectively?
Workloads are always a challenge for people to manage so that they can be effective in their roles. We seem to be doing more and more each year, and the expectation is that we will continue to deliver more and more. When it reaches a certain level, the obvious reaction is to think “I can’t do this, I can’t do that”. Rather than thinking I can’t, it can be helpful to step back and consider what is being required of you and what changes could you make to deliver on that requirement.

We have to recognise that we only change when we identify a compelling reason to do so. This means that managers need to understand what’s required of them and why or how this will benefit them. Most of the time when we are given those additional requirements, or when things seem to be pushed on us, there’s a sense of things going out of control. We regain that control when we go back and consider if it’s feasible to change our behaviour and how we can do that.

Author-Stephen-Covey-001What management tools can help us regain control?
An effective framework to help you prioritise and organise tasks more effectively is Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants. These 4 quadrants are based on the notion that tasks have 2 levels; a level of importance and a level of urgency. We tend to believe that everything we are doing is both urgent and important and that’s a fallacy. We cannot operate when everything we are doing is both urgent and important or our levels of stress will become unmanageable and unbearable for any individual. So in looking at the tasks that are required of us, we place all the tasks in one of the 4 quadrants. We determine which tasks are:

1. important and urgent (priority)
2. important but not urgent (part of long-term strategy)
3. urgent but not important (not important to us, but may be to others)
4. not urgent not important (activities that yield little or no value)

Steven Covey 4 Quadrants Matrix-1

When I list the tasks I do and I place them in one of those first three categories, I can start to identify what tasks I’m doing on a repeated basis – be it daily, weekly or monthly. If I move some tasks over to somebody else it would free up time. I could then create the scope to take on additional responsibility. So I identify the value of delegating tasks to somebody else, and the additional time it will provide, but I need to delegate those tasks in a structured way, not just dump workloads onto other people. By doing this I have a better understanding of items that are urgent and need to be dealt with immediately, and items that are important and need to be planned for but aren’t urgent. They can be slotted into your monthly calendar.

Then there are the tasks that may be important to someone else but not to you; try to work on reducing the number of activities in this quadrant. You don’t want to end up being seen as the person to whom everyone goes to if they have any requirement because you’re the person who has difficulty saying no. Remember when you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to something else.