In our professional lives, most of us have some kind of time management system—schedules, lists, an inner clock of daily routines—but how many of us have stress management systems? That is, systems for anticipating and eliminating the triggers of our anxieties?
Remember, it’s in our basic nature to be happy. The thing that makes us unhappy is living in reaction to stimuli from the environment, constantly converting them into causes of stress. What system can you rely upon when this happens? How can you alter your state and surroundings to become stress-resistant, so that, like Teflon, stress won’t stick to you?
Let’s say you’re a businessperson who lives on the road. How could it transform your life if you kept a suitcase—filled with clean clothes, a billfold of money, toiletries, everything you need— packed and ready to go, weeks before a trip is required? When the call comes from your company to travel, you’ll be ready. Rather than getting knocked around by stressors, you’re in charge because you’ve anticipated the obvious and created a system that puts you in the driver’s seat.
Research has shown that most people don’t anticipate stress. Instead, they only cope with it. If you made a list of the things that really bug you, you could certainly re-engineer what you’re doing, or the way you’re doing it, so that things would run more smoothly up front. This is called a fix-it-forever system: creating an ergonomic design for your life by eradicating the little things that cause stress.
Take an area of your life that typically causes you stress—travel, work interruptions, your children’s behavior, for example—and then list the specific situations or triggers that set you off. Now, brainstorm every possible way to preempt conflict, so that this problem would now be “fixed forever.” A system can be a new set of principles, like teaching your secretary that each day between 1 and 3 PM is your blocked time when you take no calls—a time for creative focus or solving challenges you would otherwise bring home.