Medical Self-Care: How to Feel Less Stress With an Organized Life

Medical Self-Care: Feel less stress with an organized life. Here are guidelines for removing stress, pressure and anxiety from everyday life.
By Tom Ferguson, M.D.
September/October 1982
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Make a firm commitment to put the past behind you . . . and use the following tips to guide you toward better organization and less stress.
PHOTO: RICHARD ALLEN


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Feel less stress with an organized life with these nine guidelines for removing stress from your everyday life. 

Medical Self-Care: How to Feel Less Stress With an Organized Life

We're all subject to the pressures of modern-day living . . . but people who are badly disorganized are likely to impose even more stress upon themselves. And that additional strain can (and almost certainly will) affect their health adversely.

Some lucky souls seem to be naturally organized (and the really lucky ones aren't too organized). But if you feel that you could benefit from a bit more order in your daytoday existence, just make a firm commitment to put the past behind you . . . and use the following tips to guide you toward better organization and less stress.

NINE GUIDELINES FOR LESS STRESS 

No. 1: Keep a planning notebook. By maintaining a cumulative master list of jobs that need doing, problems to be solved, and goals you'd someday like to reach — and by adding to the roster whenever an item occurs to you — you'll find yourself focusing on achieving your aims rather than simply on trying to remember what they are.

No. 2: Maintain a daily "to do" list. It's a good idea to start a rough draft of your job catalog the day before the tasks must be done (just write them down as they come to mind). Then, the next morning, read through the docket and mark each item "A" for very important , "B" for important , or "C" for less important . Now, rank the jobs within each of those groups: Label "A" items "A-1", "A-2", "A-3", etc. and do the same with the "B" and "C" categories. Finally, compose a finished draft, listing all entries in descending-priority order.

As you go through your day, try not to give in to the temptation to skip over important tasks to do lesser ones. Stick to your original ratings . . . and attempt to cross out all the entries by the end of the evening.

No. 3: Establish lifetime objectives. For example, ask yourself, "How would I like to spend the next five . . . ten . . . or fifteen years? If I knew I were going to die in six months, what would I want to do between now and then?"

Another technique is to compose a scenario for an ideal day in your life five or ten years hence. Describe where and how you'd be living, and follow your activities from morning through night. Make it a day that you'd find fully satisfying in terms of work and play, friends and family, health and environment.

Once you've given the matter some thought, you should be able to come up with a list of very specific lifetime objectives. Write them down in your planning notebook, and review them from time to time . . . just to keep yourself "on track".

No. 4: Use an appointment calendar . . . and schedule time for self-care . A daybook can be invaluable in helping you to remember meetings and bill payments and the like. But remember, too, to make appointments with yourself — for relaxing, reading, exercising, listening to music, sunbathing, or whatever — and with your family and friends.

Also, try to structure breaks for yourself during working hours. Obviously, this won't be as easy for some as it will for others (depending on the particular job), but you should at least try to give yourself a real lunch hour and — if possible — set aside one or two brief rest periods in which you can take a walk or perhaps phone a friend. Do your best to quit working at a fixed time each day, too . . . most people are more productive when they know they have only so many hours (rather than "all night") to get the jobs done.

No. 5: Establish a regular planning time. Once a day (morning seems to be best for most people), sit down and review your cumulative list of comments and tasks. Complete your "to do" roster . . . and if you've written down a problem that needs solving, try to develop a plan of action.

Once a week or so, you'll want to hold a long-range planning session. Attempt to look at least several months ahead, to get a better idea of what you'll be doing then . . . and to determine whether you need to be making preparations now.

No. 6: Examine how you use your days. I guarantee that if you keep a detailed time log over a period of three days — that is, if you write down precisely how you've spent those minutes and hours — you'll be surprised at the results.

Most people find that they spend only one-third to one-half as much time on productive projects as they thought. And once you're aware that you're wasting much of your day, you can make a conscious effort to avoid all the sidetracks that rob you of quality time . . . and to match your tasks — easy and difficult — with periods of typically high and low energy.

No. 7: Don't let "impossible" problems intimidate you. There's simply no such thing as a dilemma so complex that it can't be solved. The secret is to break big problems down into smaller, more manageable units . . . and then tackle one component task at a time.

Unfortunately, when most people are confronted with a quandry of seemingly insurmountable proportions, they tend to shy away from the difficulty altogether. And as many of us have found out the hard way, the longer we neglect problems, the larger they're likely to grow.

No. 8: Learn to unload unnecessary tasks . . . and to say no. Chances are you're being robbed of at least some time every day . . . either by others, or by your own inclination to do things that you don't need to do or that you're making more work of than necessary.

The next time you review each entry in your notebook's "problems and tasks" list, ask yourself, "Would there be any serious consequences if I didn't do this?" If your answer is no, cross the job off!

When you do undertake a task, try your best to complete it . . . don't leave more work for yourself to do later. (Many people have a hard time tackling mail and paper work, for example. Instead of immediately responding to each piece in turn, they tend to shuffle the work around . . . and usually end up with a kind of perpetual "to do soon" pile.)

Finally, teach yourself to say no to people who ask you to do things you don't want or need to do. Many of us find it difficult to refuse a request or an invitation . . . but remember, it's your time. Saying no doesn't make you a "mean" person . . . it can, rather, show that you're an honest individual in control of your own life.

No. 9: Don't hesitate to ask for help. You're not alone in this world. When you're up to your ears in work, there's no reason why you shouldn't request a little assistance.

If you're having trouble getting your finances in order, for instance, ask a friend who's good with numbers to come to your rescue . . . and offer to return the favor in some way.

Of course, you must remember that the concept of helping works both ways, so look for — and welcome — opportunities to be of use to those around you. When you do, you'll find that a little cooperative giving and taking among neighbors and friends makes life not only simpler, but more fulfilling and satisfying as well.

AN ENCOURAGING WORD 

I think you can see from the guidelines I've listed that eliminating the stress caused by an unnecessarily complicated life is frequently only a matter of exercising common sense and a few simple techniques.

In fact, there may be no such thing as an inherently orderly person. As far as I've observed, "well-organized" people are really just slobs with a system!

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are many helpful books available on this subject, and here are a few that Dr. Ferguson recommends. Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston (Warner Books, 1980, $5.95) is an excellent volume on household management. If you want assistance in focusing on lifetime goals, you'll find invaluable advice in How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein (Signet, 1974, $2.50). And Tony and Robbie Fanning's Get It All Done and Still Be Human (Chilton, 1979, $8.95) details a refreshingly free-spirited approach to personal organization. 

Dr. Tom Ferguson's quarterly journal, Medical Self-Care, is available for $15 per year from Medical Self-Care, Dept. TMEN, Inverness, California. A sample issue costs $4.00. Dr. Ferguson's book, also titled Medical Self-Care, can be ordered — for $8.95 plus 95¢ shipping and handling — from Mother's Bookshelf® Hendersonville, North Carolina. 


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