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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.