The #1 Way to Reduce Stress is….Planning

Posted by | November 11, 2021 | Ask an expert, Career changers, Employers, Find your mission, For your career, How to be awesome at your job, Job hunters, Work tips

The #1 Way to Reduce Stress is….Planning blog header

By Julia Capon

One of the best stress management techniques that works is…. drum-roll please…..


I know, I know, you are probably rolling your eyes. Planning is definitely not a sexy topic, but it is SO important and so often overlooked.

While you might think meditation and relaxation are useful for coping when you feel stressed, planning has been shown to be an even more effective method for nipping stress in the bud before it even begins.

“Prevention is by far the most helpful competency when it comes to managing stress….—doing things such as planning your day or year and trying to avoid stressors before they can affect you” Epstein

Plus, it appears part of your happiness depends on it too. Epstein’s survey on this topic found that 25% of our happiness is related to our ability to manage stress, and planning is the key to stress management.

Over the past few years, I have realised that as soon as I start to feel the first signs of stress and overwhelm the absolute best thing I can do to short circuit this cycle is to PAUSE, assess my priorities and make a PLAN. Otherwise I end up stuck in my head for a few days (or even weeks), spinning wheels in thick mud, and taking unnecessary and energy-sapping action. 

Now, as soon as I spot the first signs of stress, I jump straight to my toolkit of strategies that help – and making a plan is a key part of this.


So, how does planning help?

Studies show that those who plan, set actionable tasks and do weekly progress reports tend to achieve 40% more than those who did not. 40%!!

Imagine what kind of impact this would make on your cause in the next year?

By planning your day, week or year, you’re able to become more present in the moment, to focus on the actions that truly move the needle for your organisation and cause, and allow for mindful action – finding it easier to say no to tasks that don’t align with this plan and priorities and enabling more focused concentration and flow on the task at hand.


5 Useful Planning Tips:

  1. Think macro to micro: It is easy to get bogged down in your to-do list and constantly be reactive. When you take time to think about the bigger picture goals (macro level) and what is truly important for you and your cause, you can start to make clearer next micro steps by breaking down the bigger picture into quarterly, monthly or weekly tasks. Doing this has helped me to focus on what is actually important and what makes impact. If you want to dive into this, check out this video I made a while back on how I use the impact priority matrix to determine where to spend my time. 
  2. Get in the zone: Set aside dedicated time to plan. Being in a new place physically during this dedicated time puts you in planning mode and enables you to work ON your business and not get distracted by the work needing to be done IN the business.
  3. Commit to 1%: If you find it hard to get started, how about dedicating just 1% of your week to planning, or implementing some of the micro-steps in your plan (that’s just 24 mins if you work a 40 hr week or 5 mins a day). Just committing to 1% can make big ripples of change, can save a lot of time and reduce the stress – and helps you focus on the activities that create more impact.
  4. Review what’s working and what isn’t: Learning from past wins and misses is a great way to make a plan succeed. There are lots of ways to do this, traffic light systems, start / stop / continue tables or team reflection Q&A sessions. Take time to assess where you are and identify what you are holding onto that may no longer serve you, or your organisation. It can be worthwhile assessing what you and your team do day-to-day and think if there is one thing you can delete, decrease or delegate, and what you need to focus on and do. This is a key part of the content that I cover in our Delegate for Impact course too.
  5. Figure out how to reward yourself: When you reach a goal and follow through on your plan, don’t forget to reward yourself… maybe with something bigger than a coffee! I talk to so many people who have hit a huge milestone – from receiving a multi-year 6-figure grant to launching an entire new programme – yet they don’t pause to celebrate. They quickly move to the next thing on their to-do list. It’s so important to pause and celebrate yourself and also your team.  Plus it helps wire your brain for more success: “Collecting wins, no matter how small, can chemically wire you to move mountains by causing a repeated release of dopamine.” (Moncia Metha)

Planning for the future helps you stay in a positive mindset and keeps you from being overwhelmed by stress. After all, planning is in our nature. “As humans, we’re uniquely capable of thinking about the future,” explains Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. “We’re the only species that spends this much brainpower planning ahead.” 


Breaking the cycle

Planning can feel daunting, especially in a year where Covid has derailed many plans and left us drowning in a sea of uncertainty about what the future holds.

But the problem is, if you have felt stressed this year, you need to break this cycle. You don’t want to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day with another year repeating the same pattern. Another year where you struggle to make progress and impact, spend too long spinning wheels, wasting time, money and energy on things that don’t move the needle for your important work and cause.  


The work you do is too important for this to happen!

If you want to change this cycle and reduce your stress levels next year, you need to be proactive and start planning for the year ahead. If you need help to make this happen, we are about to open up our limited-time Planning for Impact online training in early December where we’ll create a 12-month vision and roadmap for an impactful 2022, in just 2 hours. Interested? Get yourself on the early bird list to secure one of the limited spots. Register your interest here.



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