I Used to Have a Handle on Life, But It Broke! Practical Strategies for Managing Time and Stress Features
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Features  |   September 01, 2004
I Used to Have a Handle on Life, But It Broke!
Author Notes
  • Shari Robertson, is an associate professor of speech-language pathology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Prior to obtaining her doctorate, she was a school-based SLP for more than 16 years. Contact her at srobert@iup.edu
    Shari Robertson, is an associate professor of speech-language pathology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Prior to obtaining her doctorate, she was a school-based SLP for more than 16 years. Contact her at srobert@iup.edu×
Article Information
Balance & Balance Disorders / School-Based Settings / Practice Management / Professional Issues & Training / Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Features
Features   |   September 01, 2004
I Used to Have a Handle on Life, But It Broke!
The ASHA Leader, September 2004, Vol. 9, 13-37. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.09172004.13
The ASHA Leader, September 2004, Vol. 9, 13-37. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.09172004.13
Feeling stressed out? You’re not alone! The feeling of having too little time and too much stress affects speech-language pathologists and audiologists across all professional settings. Mountains of paperwork, exploding caseloads, challenging students, and ever-changing regulations are just the tip of the iceberg for those who work in the schools. You come in early, stay late, and work at home relying on willpower, adrenaline, and liberal doses of caffeine. The work usually gets done, but you are exhausted and irritable and worried about how you will continue to be able to meet all of the demands on your time.
Unfortunately, long-term exposure to high levels of stress can lead to serious consequences such as depression, poor health, general job dissatisfaction, and eventually, professional burnout. However, there are a number of proven strategies that can help you learn to work smarter rather than harder, find more personal time, enjoy your job more, and ultimately serve your students better. Here are a few ways to help you begin to take control of time and stress—before they take control of you.
Neutralize Stress
We always have a choice in terms of how we respond to certain situations. Since stress is the result of our personal internal responses to external factors, situations that might completely “stress out” one individual may be considered little more than a bump in the road to someone else. Rather than just surrendering to the fact that work—and life—are inherently stressful and there’s nothing you can do about that fact, you can choose to begin to actively manage stress through your thinking and behavior. The key is to acknowledge your sources of stress, identify your choices in responding to them, devise a personal action plan, and be committed to following through.
Set Personal Goals
Imagine that you are on a commercial airline when the pilot comes on the intercom and announces that he has good news and bad news. “The bad news is that the plane has lost one of its engines and the direction finder is non-functioning. The good news is that we have a tail wind and wherever we are going, we are getting there at 600 miles an hour!” Sometimes we fly like this airplane—lacking direction and being pushed along by life circumstances. We are moving quickly, but not necessarily in any specific direction. However, when you take time to set personal and professional goals (and it is important to actually put them in writing), you clarify where you want to go. You can then begin to structure your life to ensure you put your time and effort into the things that are most important to you. The satisfaction you derive from meeting your goals is an effective way to neutralize stress and recharge your energy levels.
Use a Master List
A master list is the backbone of any effective time management program. While this may seem to be a simplistic and obvious strategy, it is a powerful and relatively easy-to-implement method of organizing your time and reducing your stress. Your list should include every task, activity, and obligation (both personal and professional) as well as priorities and due dates. Keep the list in plain site and cross off items as you accomplish them. Add pages as you need them (don’t waste time re-writing your list every day) and review and consolidate it periodically. You can also use your master list as a reminder to refrain from taking on new projects until you have crossed off an equivalent amount of work from it.
Organize Your Workspaces
Another I-know-I-should-do-this strategy is to schedule an appointment with yourself (start with two hours) to clean out your workspace. Begin with the top of your desk and go through every piece of paper in every nook and cranny. Make a decision about each one and throw away everything you don’t absolutely need to keep. Transfer important information to your master list. Resist the urge to reminisce and keep going. Move on to your storage areas. Eliminate all materials that have missing parts, are outdated, or that you haven’t used in the past 12 months. Do the same with your file drawers, briefcase, car, and computer. While over-regimentation is not necessary (please don’t sort paperclips by color), you can ubstantially reduce stress and save time when you are in control of your materials and space.
Be Proactive
While stress is an inescapable part of life, you can learn to manage it by modifying your thoughts and behavior. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you get started:
  • Do prioritize your time to do things you enjoy, even if it means that sometimes you don’t get something else done.

  • Don’t waste time on needless opposition. (Pick your battles.)

  • Do learn to say “no” with a smile. (Leave the guilt behind).

  • Don’t take responsibility for things that are not under your control (e.g., caseload size, difficult colleagues).

  • Do take time to support a colleague—tell them you’ve heard they are doing great things! (This is the most important thing we can do for one another.)

  • Don’t live in an imagined future. (Avoid sentences that start with “if only…”)

  • Do associate with positive people whenever possible. (Optimism is catching!)

  • Don’t forget to engage in physical activity. (Walking to the ice cream store counts.)

  • Do laugh loudly and often—it’s impossible to be tense when you are chuckling.

The conscious application of these and other strategies can help you lower stress levels and re-energize your personal and professional life. Each one of us must ultimately decide when and where to put our energies. The goal is to obtain a healthy balance between our work, our home, our family, and ourselves.
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September 2004
Volume 9, Issue 17