I Will Never Change Unless

Part II — Manage Stress At Work

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of changing our relationship with stress.

One of the greatest weapons to manage uncertainty and stress at work is to learn to manage our personal response to it.

I used to have difficulty categorizing work to get things done and reduce stress, but after some research I have found techniques that have work well.

Step 3

(Click here for Steps 1 and 2).

Work related stress hides in the hardest tasks. None of us instinctively tackle it first.

Consequently, many of us will do anything possible to delay difficult work.

When I was a kid, I would separate my food. The food I enjoyed the most got eaten last. Knowing that the tastiest part of the meal was only a few spoons away, motivated me to eat the green food first.

Consider difficult work the metaphorical food you detest. Chow through it first and leave what you enjoy for the end.

Turns out when animals are stressed, the brain fires off signals to the adrenal glands, which excrete hormones called corticosteroids into the blood. These hormones in turn generate new energy from stored reserves. They also divert energy away from low-priority activities. As a result, the animal is more likely to escape death. (Tufts University)

If you can summon the discipline to tackle the hardest problems first, the rest of your problems will be easier to tackle, and you’ll have momentum for the rest of the day.

If you have a difficult time deciding what tasks are hard, then find tasks that are important and urgent.

Tasks with quick turnarounds are the ones that are urgent, and tasks whose completion is vital to a project, are usually important.

In my experience, responding to emails are neither important nor urgent.

Tasks that break into your normal routine by default are examples of tasks that are important and urgent.

If you are still struggling to come up with a differentiation method to define important and urgent tasks, then use rules.


Use the 80–20 rule.

As it relates to work, the rule states that eighty percent of our stress comes from twenty percent of our difficult tasks.

In Ryan’s (co-author, The Experience Manifesto) case, there’s a lot going on. His publishing company has employees to supervise, books to balance, and emails to respond to.

But what makes him money? His writing.

Because of that, no matter what else he has going on in any given day, he always spends 80% of his time writing and editing.


Focus on linchpin tasks.

Linchpin tasks are tasks that if completed, make everything else easier.

For example, think about reorganizing a closet.

Generally, it makes the most sense to take everything out so you can see it all at once.

It’s much harder to go digging in a closet trying to reorganize as you find new items.

Prioritizing linchpin tasks makes everything else easier.

In the world of work for example, this means if you separate important documents into properly labeled folders (a linchpin task), then you won’t waste time later during the retrieval process.



Try to keep in mind that we generally have a tendency to overestimate what we can accomplish in any given day.

As you make your list, focus on only a few tasks at a time. If you have 8 things that need to get done, focus only on 3 or 4.

Then, if you have any extra time, you can do more than you planned. It’s a much better feeling than not getting through your list.

Again, these are just a few rules of how you can decide what work to tackle first. They may work wonderfully for some and not at all for others. At minimum, you should have a good place to start.

Continuous improvement is about testing ideas and figuring out what works best for you.

If these ideas don’t work, abandon them. However, please share what systems you end up adopting.

Once we have figured out ways to prioritize tasks, it’s time to use systems to manage stress. Please join me next time as I walk through different strategies that have worked well for many.

Thanks again for reading. If you enjoyed this blog, please leave a comment.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily.”

Someone Smart

Originally published on the Playground on September 14th, 2017.