Six months or so ago, my life turned a corner. Here I was thinking I’m a busy person, but with the birth of my baby daughter, life is suddenly a whole different ball game.
Not only am I completely time starved, I find it is also difficult to plan around the unpredictable behaviour of a baby – when she screams you just have to drop everything instantly!
This begs the question – How can we cope with a demanding life?
Here’s my list of 15 tips.
1. Reflect on what’s important
I find we are taking on more than our parents ever did. We’re just having busier lives. In today’s world, between working, socialising, exercising and parenting, where’s the time for relaxation? For many of us, I suspect we’ve operated in auto-pilot for so long, we don’t even know if what we’re doing is congruent to our values and goals in life. My advice is to take some time and reflect on what’s truly important in your life then structure your schedule accordingly so you can focus on the right things.
2. Be the master of your own destiny
This is your life. Remember, you can be happy if you choose to and our limitations are mostly self imposed. If there is an aspect of your life which you are unhappy with, then you owe it to yourself to change and make a difference. Unless there are external factors involved, your life won’t get significantly better unless you do something about it. Take charge and be the master of your own destiny. Too stressful at work? Take on less responsibility. Delegate some tasks. Quit. Anything – just take action.
3. Simplify where possible
Human needs are fundamentally basic. From a physical perspective, all we need is food, clothing and shelter. Our emotional needs are more complex, but as long as we’re happy, everything else is just bonus. Take a moment to look at your life, what you have and what you do. You might find that maybe there are aspects to your life and routine which add to your stress but aren’t really essential to your well being. Eliminate these where possible.
4. Learn to cope with stress
Sometimes, things can’t be further simplified. Instead of making our lives less stressful, we can improve our stress coping abilities. Some people read a novel or practice yoga, whilst others spend hours at the golf course or take time out to go on holidays and recharge. Whatever suits your fancy, but do spend the time to de-stress. It is not healthy to operate constantly under high levels of stress.
5. Talk to yourself
Talking to yourself is a powerful tool everyone should have in their personal development arsenal. I find it is useful for so many things and in all sorts of situations. When I’m faced with a stressful situation, talking to myself gets me calm so I can focus on the task at hand. When I’m unsure of what to do, I reflect on what it is I’m trying to accomplish and walk myself through the steps to get things done. When I’m distracted, talking to myself allows me to regain focus and apply the Diminishing Distractions technique. What you do and how you react, is determined by what you say to yourself. So make a habit to say the right things, to help ensure the right results.
6. Talk to others
When life feels too demanding and stressful, find someone you can confide in. Talk about your fears and problems. Don’t keep things bottled up inside. It’s easier to let steam out a little at a time than to wait until the pressure is so strong that you explode! Remember, you don’t have to live life alone. Talk to others – family or friends – and get their emotional support. Not only can they be a good sounding board, but you might find they can offer solutions to your troubles which you haven’t thought of before.
7. Leave work at work
Many people I know don’t stop working when work stops. They take work home or work overtime and get home late. I find one of the most useful tools one can have to cope with a demanding lifestyle is having boundaries. Leave work at work. Make sure the planning provides sufficient time to get things done without breaking your back. It’s ok once in awhile to bring work home, but don’t do it consistently. Learn to draw boundaries and allocate suitable time boxes to spend on things. This applies to everything and not just work.
8. Remove the clutter
I happen to like working with a clean desk and spacious surroundings. I feel less cramped and my brain has room for creative freedom. Not everyone works the same way of course. I have friends whose desks are literally filled with so much paper, you can’t even see the colour of the wood underneath. However, if you have an overly demanding lifestyle, try to remove the clutter. Make sure things are filed in the appropriate places, so that when you’re working on one thing you only have the material related to what you’re working on within arm’s reach. Everything else is a distraction and shouldn’t be easily accessible until you’re ready to work on them. If you work in a chaotic environment, you’re going to live a chaotic life. So clean things up. Get organised.
9. Write things down
If you’re a follower of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, you’d know the importance of writing things down. He believes that if you have too many things in your head, you’d inevitable forget something and they don’t get done. I echo the same sentiments with the addition that if you have too many things in your head, your stress levels tend to be higher. For example, imagine you’re at work and you’re trying not to forget to call the plumber to fix the leaks at home. Or when you’re at the park playing with your children and you’re thinking about the big meeting on Monday. Life feels a lot more complicated, doesn’t it? So, if you haven’t got a task list, start making one. Write things down and free your brain to concentrate on the tasks at hand.
10. Finish things off
Whether you’re a busy professional, a college student or stay at home parent, at any one time you probably juggle several things simultaneously. Whilst multi-tasking is a good skill to have, try not to handle too many things at the same time. Instead, make a point to finish things off. I find that whenever I have unfinished tasks, part of my brain is always working on them, even though it may only be at the sub-conscious level. You may not realise it, but these unfinished tasks contribute to your resting stress level. So try to get things done and closed off, instead of leaving them partially done and occupying precious brain cycles.
11. Learn to say ‘No’
If you find yourself being overwhelmed with the pressures of your current commitments, learn to say ‘No’ to new commitments. Saying ‘No’ isn’t an admission of weakness or reflection on your ability to cope with the pressures of life. It just means, that for now, you don’t have sufficient bandwidth to take on new things. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better to give your existing commitments the time they deserve and do a proper job rather than take on too much and do things poorly.
12. Ask for help if you need it
The smartest thing you can do when you feel like you’re overwhelmed and can’t fulfill your commitments is to ask for help. Many people are afraid to ask for help. To them, asking for help is a sign of failure or inability to get things done. To me it is the complete opposite. Asking for help shows maturity and highlights a person’s desire to do a good job. I’d rather work with someone who knows when to ask for help, than someone who works crazily, to the detriment of the project and their health.
13. Accept that life is a series of ups and downs
I don’t know what the proper name for it is, but there are people who observe their health on a daily basis. Every time something unusual happens, they think it’s a terminal medical condition! Similarly, I find there are people who take life just a bit too seriously and are adversely affected emotionally whenever something bad happens. My advice is to take life a little less seriously. There will always be ups and downs. Don’t get too stressed out. This is just life.
14. Adopt a positive outlook and approach to life
It won’t change the reality of your present situation, but it will change your perception of it. You can choose to either look at the obstacles life presents as problems or you can look at them as opportunities. Though it won’t relieve you from your daily pressures, adopting a positive outlook will affect how you approach life’s challenges for positive gain. Remember that life is a journey to be enjoyed. Start now and change the way you look at life.
15. Have faith in yourself
The last tip I have to help with coping with a demanding life is to have faith in yourself. I’ve always believed that the human spirit is our greatest strength. Only when faced with the most difficult situations, challenges and danger do we learn and grow. Believe in yourself! Persevere. If life is tough, then be tougher. You’d be surprised by how amazing you can be if you give yourself a chance.