About 6 years ago, I was constantly under pressure because I couldn’t get everything done on time. I was creating, and rolling out nationally, several major leadership programs. I also had responsibility for a number of other training and HR initiatives. In addition, I was managing a stressful performance issue with a team member.

I considered myself very productive, and able to deliver exceptional project outcomes. The impact of failing to do this as well as I thought I should be included not eating well and losing too much weight, poor sleep, and feeling teary more often than was healthy!

A friend mentioned that mindfulness might help me and, at the same time, another colleague reminded me of a simple time management tool I use to this day. I was also aware of neuroscience work recommending that it’s helpful to ‘prioritise prioritising’ when feeling overwhelmed i.e. to take time out and reset our ‘to do’ list.

I started waking up 15 minutes earlier so I could start the day with a mindful meditation. It became a tool for bringing me back to the present, and allowing myself to be non-judgemental about what was going on and how I was managing it. I’ve since gone on to do some study in this area so I can share the concepts with others and enable them to develop helpful mindfulness practices.

Credit for managing my time better during that period (and now) goes to a well renowned leadership expert, Steven Covey. He wrote ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, used extensively by individuals and organisations. His Quadrant 2 Time Management matrix tool is shown below.

Taking on board the neuroscience guidelines to prioritise prioritising, I started and ended each day by using this tool to review priorities. I became aware that I was constantly working in Quadrant 1, where everything was important AND urgent. I’d been under constant pressure. Research confirms that doing this long term leads to stress symptoms, burnout and ineffectiveness. I was, in fact, delivering – but the cost to me was significant.

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Whilst the demands on me didn’t necessarily decrease, I became better at managing them. I was more aware of where I was wasting my time (Quadrants 3 and 4) and reduced or delegated those activities. I was much more diligent about making time for Quadrant 2 items i.e. those that were important but not yet urgent. I would schedule them into my calendar in two hour blocks, and really guard that time. My Quadrant 1 list shrunk, my Quadrant 2 list remained steady and achievable, and my Quadrant 3 and 4 activities sometimes disappeared, because they really weren’t that important anyway!

There is no one path to managing your personal stresses, but I know for me that talking about it with people I trust, integrating mindfulness and using an effective time management tool enabled me to move through that difficult time. I still use these strategies now.

Experiment with these strategies, find out more by asking people for ideas, and find out what works best for you!

PS: Weight loss was regained…perhaps even a little more.