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Staying Balanced in Times of Stress

A stressful work situation will be forgotten a few years from now, while time spent outdoors with others remains memorable for a long time

January can be a busy time. As customers start the new year with fresh ideas and new budgets, workloads for freelance business owners can be larger than usual. Of course, working longer hours generates income, but the additional work volume can also mean having to sacrifice personal and leisure time.

If you just promised yourself to live a healthier lifestyle and spend your time more mindfully in 2016, the first few weeks of the year can put your resolve to the test. Here are some thoughts for staying balanced when you have to cope with large workloads and the associated stress:

1. Plan your time realistically

When we feel stressed about a large task or a full schedule, it may be tempting to skip all planning and get right to work. No matter how harried you may feel, spending 5 minutes on planning at the beginning of the workday is the most productive use of your time. Resist the urge to simply plunge into your day by starting the first chore you come across (typically answering emails). Realistic planning in times of stress should include additional time buffers to make sure that short interruptions (such as phone calls) don't throw off your schedule. Determine in advance how you will handle unexpected requests, and commit (in writing) to leaving work at a specific time to avoid fatigue. Your time plan should also include at least one concrete activity (with a time and location) to unwind and relax.

2. Don't let your stress be contagious

No matter how overwhelming your workload, make a conscious attempt not to let your stress levels affect those around you. Kicking up a fuss ("I can't believe this mess!") won't endear you to anyone, and will take away from precious quality time. Let go of any perfectionist ideas you may have regarding cuisine, household, or other appearance matters, and stop sweating the small stuff. Years later, no one will remember whether there was leftover soup or Boeuf Bourguignon for dinner. What will matter is that you were able to let go of your preoccupation with your work to listen and be present to others. Unless things are in a state of hazardous disrepair, it is completely acceptable during stressful times to postpone minor chores and ignore disorder in favor of finding relaxation and joy. To make the most of precious non-working hours, spend time outdoors and don't forget to find out what is happening in the life of a partner, friend or children.

What will matter is that you were able to let go of your preoccupation with your work to listen and be present to others.

3. Evaluate priorities and outsource

Evaluate your priorities in times of stress. Does it make sense to let go of certain business chores? Are household chores shared equally? For example, doing your own accounting may not be the most productive activity with a full business schedule, or it may be time to find help with social media management or marketing. There are plenty of people who can clean your house, plow snow, or walk dogs. Their work results may not look exactly as you might have chosen, but getting extra help makes sure you are not wasting precious personal time on mundane tasks.

4. Have a policy of "no"
Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and actions. [...] They encourage reflection, help to define priorities and aid decision-making, especially with in-the-moment requests. They can stop you from defaulting to that regretful “yes.” (from A Policy of Saying No... by J. Wallace)

For psychological reasons, saying "I don't" is more powerful than making excuses or saying "I can't". In stressful times, having policies on matters such as unscheduled phone calls, work requests, or volunteer commitments in place makes it easier to decline. For example, a policy of "I don't answer my phone in the morning" lets you put your phone aside for uninterrupted productivity time.
In hindsight, times of coping with large workloads or other stressful situations come with many useful lessons. In fact, having policies in place, not sweating the small stuff, and making conscious efforts to enjoy personal time are great principles to follow any day. Try them, and see what you think. Here's to you!

What are your best time management tips for dealing with stress?
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