If you read my last post, you understand that the first step on the path to reducing stress is to acknowledge that you are the only person on earth that can change things. The world will do what the world does. You can’t control it. You can, however, change how you do things.
So, what is the next step?
A good place to start is to get everything on the table. If you are a Director of Technology, surface all your commitments and write them down. Go to each building and solicit every tech support call that is still outstanding. It’s not uncommon for some teachers or administrators to stop putting in tech support issues if they have stopped believing that they will be taken care of in a reasonable time frame. They say to themselves, “What the heck. Why bother?” Get these issues too. They are important.
By the way, no matter what is causing your stress, even if you are not a Director of Technology, collecting every tiny item that is outstanding in your to do’s and writing it down in a single place, is an important step in reducing your stress.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute. Won’t seeing all my outstanding to do’s and commitments in one place make my overwhelm and stress worse?”
No, not really. Sometimes the stressful weight we carry is heavier because of what we don’t know, because of what we imagine. Seeing it all on paper in front of us can be shocking; but it actually puts boundaries on things. It’s all there. Nothing is hiding. Nothing is imaginary. We can see clearly the scope of the problem.
Now, with the scope clear, we can begin to take control. Which items can be handled relatively easily? Which items have no time frames on them? Why not put new and realistic time frames on them, rather than letting them hang out there without any commitment of a date? Which items are long overdue and should be considered high priorities? Which items can be renegotiated? etc.
I love the story of the man waiting for an elevator that had no floor indicator. He wants to go UP so he presses the UP button. He waits for what he thinks is a reasonable amount of time for the elevator to come, and when it doesn’t, he walks back over and pushes the lit UP button again. Intellectually he knows that pushing the button again will do no good; but he does it anyway.
He continues to wait and grows more impatient. Still no elevator. He loses his cool and presses the DOWN button. Because he doesn’t know what is going on, he has decided to go all the way down to the Lobby in order to go up to his destination floor. If everyone waiting for the elevator does this, it cripples the system and things slow to a crawl.
The solution, make a Floor indicator available to those waiting. Once I can see that the elevator is making its way towards me, however slow it may be; at least I know it’s coming. I won’t be pressing the DOWN button in order to go UP
Let’s go back to the Director of Technology who has collected every outstanding item in each of the buildings. She can make a plan to “catch up” over some reasonable period of time. Maybe she feels it will take a 3-6 month period, for example. She can go back to each building and lay out this time frame for taking care of their issues. I guarantee that this will make things better for them and for her.
“Well, doesn’t having this new ‘catch up plan’ add to her stress?”
Not really for she is in control. She has surfaced the issues. She has developed the ‘catch up plan’. She has laid out the time frames she feels are reasonable. She might even be able to say, “I’ll need some short term help to take care of this backlog.”
The issue of control is paramount in understanding stress. One of the foundational features of stress is feeling overwhelmed and not in control of events or issues, even our lives. Laying out all our challenges allows up to see the scope of the problem and creating a plan to meet those challenges, is a first step to putting us back in the driver’s seat.
Of course there’s much more to this; but acknowledging our role, surfacing the issues, and creating a plan to resolve things is a great way to get started.