By Tutor and Life Coach Muriel McClymont

I’ve just watched a most interesting TED talk, ‘The Art of Stress Free Productivity’. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is a not for profit organisation that aims to spread 'Ideas Worth Sharing'. If you have not yet explored this resource, dip in a toe.

(One of the most amazing TED talks I ever watched is Jill Bolte Taylor talking about how it feels to have a stroke - fascinating insights into our creative brains.)

Stress at this time of year comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people feel stressed just now because they are not going to be with their family for Christmas others because they are going to be with their family for Christmas!

Freelances can be stressed because many of them will have very little work from about now until mid January, which can leave a substantial dent in the coffers. Some will have more work than they feel they can handle.

Whatever the causes, how can we deal with it?

David Allen in ‘The Art of Stress Free Productivity’ offers a deceptively simple three step plan.

  • carry a notebook with you and write everything down as it comes into your head
  • decide outcomes and then a first action step for every area of your life
  • create an overall map of all areas of your life on one sheet of paper

At first I thought this was too simple, then I tried it out. I got a bit carried away with the writing down all the things I was holding in my head and what became my brain dump list got a bit scary in itself. The funny thing was though that I did feel lighter from putting it all down on a piece of paper.

I then grouped my list into specific key areas - work, family, commitments etc. and considered what I wanted to happen short, medium and long term in each area. Then I created a new to do list with specific first step actions to achieve all this.

What was interesting was that at this point many things just dropped off my list because, once I started to think in terms of outcomes, things either became lumped in with others or simply got dropped as no longer relevant.

Then I produced my overall map. I did this by producing a mind map with me in the middle and lines coming off for each area of my life, with sub branches coming off that, which I colour coded it to make it even clearer to read. If you prefer lists, you could make as many headings as you need, and do lists underneath - again you could colour code this to make it more striking visually. If you like drawing, you could make a picture of your life using symbols or pictures that represent all the areas that are important for you. How you create this map doesn’t matter as long as it is meaningful to you.

I have to say this was the most powerful step because I now have that map in my head and this has helped me make better decisions. When I am feeling particularly pressured in one area, I can see at a glance of my map, how any action I take will impact everything else, so, I can avoid being purely reactive and can manage issues in a more proactive, constructive and productive way. All without any angst ridden worry or stress!

I love to find new things that work and before I use it on clients, I like to try it out and work out why it works. This is my take on it:

Writing it Down

The reason this is effective is that once we write things down, not only do we give ourselves space to think, without trying to keep 30 plates spinning in our heads, but we give ourselves an alternative perspective.

By which I mean, when we hold all the information in our head, some of it we will see as vivid pictures, some will be words we hear, many things will have feelings attached. Putting it all down on paper lets you take a step back from any emotions, puts everything on the same footing and gives you some distance to think and a new viewpoint to think from.

Decide Outcomes and First Action Steps

Deciding on the outcome and identifying actions works because it gives us a positive direction, something that no amount of stressing or mulling over a problem, or trying to decide what to do next, can. Nothing is more stress inducing than sitting reviewing a list of problems and getting increasingly overwhelmed by their volume or complexity. Focusing exclusively on the problem gets you nowhere new.

I particularly liked the point made in the video that lack of time is not the problem but a symptom. Einstein, Mozart, and every other genius you might like to mention, only ever had 24 hours in a day!

Creating an Overall Map

Finally, making an overall map of everything in your life that you need to pay attention to allows you to put your whole life and what is important to you in one place which you then have a visual representation for, so you can see each component in context and prioritise effectively.

More information and questions

I highly recommend that you take 20 minutes to watch The Art of Stress Free Productivity and try out these steps for yourself. You may discover something amazing. I’d love to know how you get on. So, let me know or ask questions at our ‘Freelance Challenges’ forum.

For additional tips David Allen provides access to a great range of free articles, see this link.

Wishing you a very merry and stress free Christmas.


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