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Is Your To-Do List Freaking You Out? Try a 'Pressure Calendar'

If you're stressing out about a crunch period and it's impacting your productivity, try this low-tech but effective solution.
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It’s ironic but true: some days the biggest impediment to getting things done is how much you need to do.

You know the feeling. Your to-do list is as long as your arm, the phone is buzzing, the sink is leaking at home and there’s a huge event coming up. You can feel your chest tighten and your mind spin, thinking again and again about how much you need to accomplish. You’re not at your most productive exactly when you need to be.

In short, you’re freaking out. How do you conquer the feeling?  

Designer Tim Brown offered a useful low-tech idea on consistently interesting daily post series The Pastry Box Project recently. He calls it "the pressure calendar." "I use pressure calendars when my to-do list is full of tasks that seem equally important, or tasks that could each consume all of my available time," he writes. "A pressure calendar shows me how much time I have, and helps me spend that time wisely."

So what exactly is it?

Simply a print out from his calendar app blocked off into three four hour chunks of time per day, which Brown goes at with a pencil and eraser (you still have a couple lying around, right?). He explains:

I draw horizontal lines on the printout to divide days into thirds. Into the available chunks, I pencil in tasks. This helps me judge available time realistically, because I know I can expect four hours of productive time in each third of a calendar day. What can I get done in four hours?

In practice, things never go exactly according to my penciled-in plan. Stuff happens, so I cross off the days that have passed, erase as needed, and sketch out new plans. Although this kind of editing can get messy, it helps to be able to wrap my head around my tasks in a time-related way without having to use software; hassles and overhead that wouldn’t normally bother me can really stress me out when I’m under pressure.

I refer to the pressure calendar constantly until I no longer feel overwhelmed.

By channeling your anxiety into scribbling and giving yourself a clear plan, a pressure calendar help calm your nerves, Brown has found. But the best part of this good old-fashioned paper solution may be the emotional release it provides once the crunch period has passed. It’s "amazing to take all that stress, crumple it up, and toss it in the trash," he writes.

Want an example of what a pressure calendar looks like? Check out the post for a link to a recent one used by Brown.

Could a pressure calendar work for you?

 

IMAGE: Flickr photo courtesy of Vicky Sedgwick
Last updated: Aug 8, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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