The art of stress-free productivity

When your to-do list is getting long, remember the following tips to remain as stress-free as possible. Flickr/Creative Commons

When your to-do list is getting long, remember the following tips to remain as stress-free as possible. Flickr/Creative Commons

As college students (especially at a high-ranked university such as USC), we are constantly faced with intense pressure and stress to achieve high grades and accomplishments that might bring us closer to our career goals and post-grad aspirations. Whether studying for exams, or preparing projects, presentations, homework, interviews, there’s always an upcoming deadline to face, another task to finish.

In fact, according to an annual survey of college freshman conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, results showed that in the past fall, students believed that their emotional health dropped significantly since they entered college.

With all that happens, how could we not be stressed? Anxiety seems to be inevitable in the college student lifestyle.

After an especially stressful week of school midterms, my father took notice and gave me a book written by veteran management consultant and trainer, David Allen, titled “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.” The book discusses the systematic strategies that people can implement to accomplish more, with less effort and effectively work with a clear head and more energy.  One of the most valuable methods that I learned from the book include a five -step strategy for managing workflow and gaining control of your life:

“In order for your mind to let go of the lower-level task of trying to hang on to everything, you have to know that you have truly captured everything that might represent something you have to do, and that at some point in the near future you will process and review all of it,” writes Allen.

You can capture your to-do list, ideas, and tasks by collecting information in baskets, taking notes on paper and pad, or downloading a useful app called Evernote to dictate important information while you are on the run.

“You can’t organize what’s incoming — you can only collect it and process it. Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done.”

Ask yourself this question, “Can I take action based on this information?” For example, the graduate school you are applying to requires several items: a personal statement and resumé, teacher recommendations, and standardized admissions test scores (GMAT/GRE/LSAT). It’s impossible for you to complete all the requirements in one day, but you can decide what to do first based on the completeness of information. It is probably easier to submit the documents that you have on hand (personal statement and resumé) while waiting for test results to come out and for your teacher to get back to you with a recommendation. Based on your response, you can filter and determine whether or not you can do something about it now, or refer back to it later.

“For nonactionable items, the possible categories are trash, incubation tools and reference storage. If no action is needed on something, you toss it, ‘tickle’ it for later reassessment or file it so you can find the material if you need to refer to it at another time. To manage actionable things, you will need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.”

Organize actionable items based on their category and priority and set a due date as well as routine reminders so that you can remember to follow up on them. You can use Google Calendar to keep track of things to do and create reminders that are sent to your email or texted to you.

4.)   REVIEW
“You need to be able to review the whole picture of your life and work at appropriate intervals and appropriate levels. For most people the magic of workflow management is realized in the consistent use of the review phase.”

Periodically review the things you need to do, and determine which need adjusting and which you are making progress on. This allows you to consistently be better informed and thus make better decisions.

5.)   DO
“Every decision to act is an intuitive one. The challenge is to migrate from hoping it’s the right choice to trusting it’s the right choice.”

Choose which task you are going to accomplish first and act on it. Productively planning out your schedule, and going through this five step strategy of workflow management will allow you to feel more confident in your actions and decisions and effectively increase your productivity.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend you read this book. The book guides the reader through strategies that teach how to spend less time doing the things you have to do so that you can allocate that time to things that you enjoy.  Next time you can look at your list of things to do, you can spend less time worrying and stressing about the workload, and instead get things done.