Productivity When You Are Stress-Frozen

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There are lots of ways to reduce stress in your life, and that is probably a terrific starting point, but this article is not about that.

These are my personal  strategies to get moving when you feel stress-frozen. I always suggest beginning with prayer and some time in the word of God. If you are struggling to do those things, then make sure every bit of media you put into your mind is pointing you that way- godly music, daily devotions, biblical based reading, etc. Let everything trivial drop off the radar for now if it is not leading you in the direction you need to go.

  1. Make a master to-do list. I call this a brain-dump, a term I am sure I learned in one of many productivity books I have read over the years. This list does not need to be prioritized, alphabetized, or even neat. I highly recommend you do this on a piece of paper, in your written planner. If you are 100% digital, then go ahead and use your digital to-do list, but if you are not a person who regularly uses and updates your digital tools, then they are not working for you. Switch to paper.
  2. Take care of the things I call fundamentals: Food, clothing, finances.Plan your next meal (eat something now if you have not eaten). Try to use only what you have on hand for this, so you are not adding anything else to your stress-ridden plate. Get out anything you need to thaw. Start the meal prep. If you do not have food in the house, then go ahead and place an online grocery order where you can drive in and pick it up, such as Kroger Click-List, Walmart Curb-side. etc. Add the pick up time to your calendar, and set reminders on your phone to pick it up. When I am stressed, things like that can slip my mind. If you have someone offering to help you, you can even ask them to take care of grocery pick-up for you. Or ask them to provide a meal. It is OK to accept help when offered.
  3. Start a load of laundry and set a timer to switch it. Go through and choose the things needed immediately and get them going.
  4. Gather all paperwork in one big pile/box and pull out the bills or other immediately important items and put them on top. This is not the time to handle all the paper. Just pull out what is URGENT and IMPORTANT. Once you have the bills together, decide the order of importance (due date, size, etc). Add them into your banking system’s automatic or electronic bill pay. (If you do not use these tools, add it to your master list to take time to learn to use them. Even if you go in and manually send bills each month, you are still not having to have stamps, envelopes, a pen, etc. You just go click in the payee, add the amount and send it.). Add paperwork to your master to-do list.
  5. Consider all your modern appliances and make sure they are at work for you. Use that crock-pot for the next meal, get the washer and dryer moving, load and start the dishwasher. Use your oven timer and set something to cook in there. Make use of any of these tools that will work while you are doing other things.
  6. Now is the tricky part because you have to make decisions. This is the part that is hard for me. When I get stressed, my natural inclination is to find a way to waste massive amounts of time. I will read, play on my phone, watch netflix, or find some other distraction. All these leave me feeling more hopeless and stressed in the long run. SO…park the phone or put it in do-not-disturb, or remove all social media apps until you are feeling less out-of-control. Go to your master list you created in step one. Here are some different ways to prioritize. Choose the method that most appeals to you. I use many different methods depending on the day, and how bad the stress-freeze is.
  • Make a paper with four quadrants on it, from Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly effective people. These are: 1- Urgent/Important, 2- Not Urgent/Important, 3- Urgent Unimportant, 4 Not Urgent/Not Important. Add everything from your list to one of those. OR, you can use highlighters in four colors and color code your master list you already made. Then, commit to working on things only in section 1, then 2, then 3 and so on. You will add to and update the list as you work, because you will always have new steps you discover.
  • Start by completing anything that will take less than five minutes per task (or two minutes if you are talking about digital correspondence and the like).
  • Number the items on your list in order of importance, 1-10. You may have 100 items, but do not bother going past ten. New things will be added, and things will drop off so there is not point in numbering further. Start with the number 1 item, go as far as you can, then move to number 2.
  • Decide to delegate. This means that you look at every item on your list and see what can be delegated. even if the person you are delegating to cannot do it as well, as fast or as efficiently. Send your children to get started on some of the things, hire help if you are able. Ask for help from a friend or neighbor. Give them anything on the list that is not 100 percent you. Be creative. You can have children gather all laundry, or gather all papers in the house. You can have them shelve books, put away toys, gather trash, dust, sort. If the person cannot do it as well, feel free to go back later, when your list is empty and re-do it to your liking. I recommend this step, regardless of which method you are using.
  • Choose the things that will make the MOST immediate positive impact on your day/week.
  • Choose the item you are dreading the most and finish it. OR decide you are simply not going to do it and delete it from your list.
  • Cancel everything on your calendar that you can possibly miss for the next month. Give yourself some space to breath and work without all the extra distractions.
  • Commit to add nothing new to your plate, regardless of how important, appealing, or desperate it sounds. Say NO graciously, and stick to it.
  • Choose uplifting music to work to, gather supplies and get working. Set a timer for fifteen minutes and work as fast as you can on the most helpful or urgent task. Then, move to the next job for 15, working for about an hour total. Or even if you just have fifteen minutes, you can make a startling impact if you work quickly.
  • If your priority is housework, you can choose where to start using one of these methods: Do all decluttering on one floor of the house then decide the order to clean that level; pick the worst room in the house and do the worst 15 minutes there, then go to the next worst room and so on; choose the room by the front door and consider what a guest sees as they enter; choose the smallest room in the house and start there; start with your bedroom to create a sanctuary again there when it is rest time; start with your desk so you have a nice effective place to work, beginning with clearing the top.Look for any job the children can do, and get them on it. Whichever way you choose, keep a small notebook nearby to note additional things you need to add to your master to-do list. You cannot do it all at once.
  • Plan an event in your house. It can be tea with a friend or a whole gathering. This may sound counter -productive, but having company over regularly helps me see the tasks around me and helps me get moving forward.

Once you are not stress-frozen anymore, there are many steps you can put into place to help get things permanently under control. This is not a permanent solution kind of list, but rather a way to help yourself move forward in a positive way. If you have been in this state for a long time, or are entering a season where you know you will be prone to this (a new baby, a sick loved one) I suggest you start putting systems in place to help keep your stress to a minimum.

I have read so many productivity books over the years, and I am sure none of these thoughts are unique to me. I am not suggesting you go out and buy a bunch of books, but I do want to give credit where due. Here are some of the resources I have used over the years to get a grip on how I handle productivity:

Steven Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Getting Things Done (and his follow-up books)

How to Have a 48 Hour Day

Digital Tool:

Create a Cozi account for the whole family today, and keep your family’s schedules and lists organized in one shared calendar. It’s FREE!


Michael Hyatt
What helps you get moving when you are stress-frozen? (Asking for a friend 😉 )

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