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Create routines to help you bust stress

We’ve all experienced mile-long to-do lists, past-due work deadlines, dishes piled in the sink or bills piled on the table, or always arriving 20 minutes late. (Come to think of it, I have a couple of those going right now …) That’s stress, and very few of us are immune to it.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans surveyed by Gallop last year said stress is a factor in their lives. They cited feelings of lacking time to accomplish all they want and most related it to child care and work.

It’s no wonder that, with so many of us in stress mode, there’s lots of advice on how to combat it.

One of my favorite stress-busting methods is simple, but hard to keep in mind when I am frantically trying to cross things off my to-do list. It’s routine.

Reduce start-up and slow-down time

At work, I group my regular activities together and do them all at the same time. For instance, I only return phone calls twice a day. When I arrive, I check my voicemail, return any calls, and make any that are on my to-do list. Then I repeat the process mid-day. Most of my work occurs in my office face-to-face with colleagues. I don’t want to ask them to “hold on a minute” while I pick up the phone.

Also, instead of having several starts and stops as I search for phone numbers, etc., this process helps me stay organized and track who I need to have phone conversations with. This method is also useful for conquering email – no more responding every time I heard the distracting inbox “ping!”

These routines help reduce what I like to call start-up and slow-down time, the time it takes to switch gears between tasks. It can really add up during the day.

Morning routine puts house in order

At home I try to start and end my day with things I need to do and with things I enjoy. I find this to be very grounding. No matter what pops up in the middle, the start and end of the day can be soothing and set me up for success.

I jump start my day with a 30-minute morning routine. While the coffee brews, I load/unload the dishwasher, feed the dog, and pack my lunch and work bag. With any spare minutes before the coffee perks, I make the bed, toss stray laundry in the hamper, return discarded pet toys to their bins, and other quick and easy tasks.  Then it’s time to take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood (my reward for a job well done) and off to work I go.

This routine isn’t time-consuming or complicated, but makes my return home in the evening much less stressful because the house is (mostly!) in order.

Routines can help us keep our tasks manageable without being beholden to the clock. The trick is finding small tasks to tackle at the most opportune time, and incorporating them into your day.

Samantha Curran is Director of Human Resources at the Community Loan Fund.

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