Personal Organization & Stress Management

Section A, Part 7


Student leaders are often busy people who juggle many responsibilities in addition to schoolwork. Management of your time and the activities you use to fill up that time are vital to personal growth and success.

Here are some tips for organizing your time and your life.

  • Look at your normal time schedule and analyze it.
    • How much unassigned time do you have? How can you use it more effectively?
    • In what ways do you waste time?
    • What similar activities can be grouped together to save time? (telephone, letter writing, errands, etc.)
    • What is your most productive time of day? How can you schedule things to make the best use of this time?
  • Write down specific, attainable goals.
  • Schedule blocks of time to make significant progress on the most important goals. Plan each day the night before. Think of ways you can reduce distractions.
  • Use “To Do” lists daily, weekly, and long term. Rank your tasks in order of priority.
  • Do one thing at a time and resist detours.
    • Break down large or unpleasant jobs into manageable units. “Being a better student” is too big; start with “studying math longer each day.”
    • Establish starting times/dates, review times/dates, and completion times/dates. Stick to them. Commit yourself and others to get things done on time.
  • Plan for the unexpected! Don’t schedule every minute of every day.
  • Learn to say NO! (to the phone, salespeople, friends, TV, etc.)
  • Unclutter your life.
    • Get rid of unused and/or unappreciated possessions. If you don’t use it, need it, or enjoy it, why keep it?
    • Don’t overextend yourself. Becoming overcommitted only means that you won’t do your best at anything, and your attitude will suffer.
    • Balance your priorities between home and school. Don’t let your home life suffer because you are spending so much time and energy on school and activities.
    • Avoid “friends” who are negative and pull you down.
  • Use sleeping time to let the subconscious work. Keep paper and pen by your bed to record ideas as soon as you wake.
  • Delegate activities/assignments to associates and friends whenever possible. Ask people for help, and be sure to give them recognition for the work they do.
  • Determine which things can appropriately be put off or ignored. (Set priorities.)
  • Regularly ask yourself “What is the best use of my time right now?”

Stress Management

No matter how hard you try to organize your life, there always seems to be times when you are overwhelmed with responsibilities, activities, and demands on your time. Stress results from too many demands on too few resources. This stress can make you tense and irritable. It is vital that you learn to recognize signs of stress in yourself. Some common self-observable signs of stress include:

  • General irritability, hyper-excitation, or depression
  • Pounding of the heart (an indicator of high blood pressure, often due to stress)
  • Dryness of the throat and mouth
  • Impulsive behavior, emotional instability
  • The overpowering urge to cry or run and hide
  • Inability to concentrate, flight of thoughts, general disorientation
  • Feelings of unreality, weakness, or dizziness
  • Predilection to become fatigued; loss of the joy of living
  • “Floating anxiety”—being afraid but not knowing of what
  • Emotional tension and alertness—feeling of being “keyed up”
  • Trembling, nervous tics
  • Tendency to be startled easily by small sounds, etc.
  • High pitched, nervous laughter
  • Stuttering and other speech difficulties, often stress-induced
  • Grinding of the teeth
  • Insomnia and/or nightmares
  • Hypermotility—increased tendency to move around without any reason (are you kicking your foot right now?)
  • Sweating—becomes obvious only under considerable stress but is readily detectable by biofeedback instruments
  • The frequent need to urinate
  • Diarrhea, indigestion, queasiness in the stomach, sometimes even vomiting
  • Migraine and/or tension headaches
  • Pain in the neck or lower back
  • Loss of or excessive appetite
  • Neurotic behavior
  • Increased use of controlled substances: prescribed drugs, alcohol and other drugs, increased smoking
  • Accident proneness

How to Deal With Stress

If you notice stress building, try these techniques for keeping it at a manageable level.

Look for causes. Who or what is at the bottom of the stress? Dealing directly with the person or issue may be the best approach. Look around and see if there really is something you can do about the stressful situation instead of worrying about it.

Anticipate stressful periods and plan for them. Find the level of stress that is best for you, remembering that both insufficient and excessive stress are potentially harmful. Try and reduce the number of events going on in your life.

Do one thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by fretting about your entire workload. Take each thing as it comes, and tell yourself you can handle it. You’ll get more done with less hassle if you concentrate on each thing as it comes.

Set realistic goals.

Learn to pace yourself. You can’t operate in high gear all the time. Take a break. Go for a walk. Look out the window. Do something else.

Exercise. Work off stress with physical activity: jogging, tennis, gardening, walking, racquetball, etc. Physical exercise can refresh you after heavy mental work.

Learn how to play. Find an activity that you enjoy (not what someone else thinks you’ll enjoy) and engage in it regularly. Practice other forms of systematic relaxation.

Go with the flow. If you can’t fight what’s bothering you, and you can’t flee from it, then just go with it.

Create a quiet place. Take time to meditate, to pray, or to read a book.

Develop a peer support system. Cultivate friendships with supportive people who have positive attitudes. Having people to confide in and seek advice from can uncoil the tightly wound spring of tension. Examine your relationships to see what you could do to put more warmth, communication, and mutual support into them.

Do something for others. Reaching out can get your mind off yourself and make you feel good by making someone else feel good.

Learn to accept yourself. It’s okay not to be perfect. If you fail, don’t concentrate on failure.Deliberately recall past successes. It helps self-esteem.

Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Lack of rest just aggravates your stress problems. Maintain a proper diet.

Avoid self-medication. Alcohol and drugs can mask stress symptoms, but they don’t help deal with the problems. Don’t escape into drinking and drugging.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Not every argument is worth trying to win. Defend values that are important, but learn to ignore lesser issues. Don’t take life so seriously. Remember, it’s all small stuff.

Preventing Burnout

Here are some suggestions for beating burnout. Some are frivolous, others serious. Even if you have no symptoms of impending trouble, you may find some suggestions meant for you! Relax, and enjoy these ideas for coping with life’s problems.

  1. Find a tension outlet that works for you and use it when you need it. Consider crossword puzzles, card games, running, dancing, photography, board games, sewing, etc.
  2. Write a journal of your daily activities, thoughts, and moods.
  3. Build fresh air and exercise into your daily life. Park a half mile from school and walk!
  4. Turn on the radio to some zippy music when you’re alone, and dance around to it. Don’t look in the mirror—just let yourself feel good.
  5. Meditate daily.
  6. When you get home after a bad day, get into a hot shower and sing. It’s almost impossible to feel rotten when your voice sounds so great.
  7. Practice good nutrition by eating balanced meals and by avoiding too many sweets, too much junk food, and foods that don’t agree with you. Stay away from caffeine!
  8. Take a good book into the library at lunch time. Choose a comfortable, isolated seat and enjoy the peace and quiet.
  9. Get in some “dirty hands” activity: saw wood, dig up the garden, chop down trees, scrub the floor.
  10. Volunteer your time and talents to a not-for-profit organization, and spend some time with someone who needs you. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister, or visit a nursing home. You’ll feel good about making others feel good.
  11. Never eat dinner while you’re still stewing about school or work.
  12. After school on a cold day, enjoy a mug of hot cocoa (with marshmallows, of course!) while taking a steaming hot bubble bath. On a hot day, sip a glass of cold lemonade and sit in cool water.
  13. Go to a newsstand once a week and buy a different magazine each time. You will expand your horizons and find lots of new topics for conversation.
  14. Be careful not to schedule all your leisure time.
  15. Laugh.
  16. Go see a sad movie and let yourself cry a lot. Then figure out why you cried a lot.
  17. Take up that hobby you’ve been thinking about. Set up that aquarium, teach yourself to develop film, research your family tree, learn to weave, or refinish a piece of furniture. Start off small, though, so you don’t overwhelm yourself and get discouraged too quickly.
  18. Look for things to praise in yourself and others.
  19. Go out to dinner at one of your favorite restaurants with a friend or a relative.
  20. Clean out your locker or your room if they need it. If they’re already spotless, try letting them get messy for a week.
  21. Take up a new sport. Learn how to play tennis, take scuba diving lessons, join a community softball or volleyball team, or start ice skating.
  22. Reward yourself for all the good work you’ve been doing. Buy a tape or CD, or a new outfit, go to the theater or a baseball game.
  23. Write a letter or send a card to a far-away friend you haven’t heard from in a while.
  24. Avoid going home and sitting in front of the TV or lying on the couch.
  25. Make up your own stress reliever.

Take this Stress Test. Download the test here.

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