25 ways to feel more buttoned up when life gets crazy

If you’re hunched over a desk reading emails or white knuckling it through a stressful period, you’re probably holding your breath more than you realize. Researchers have nicknamed this email apnea and it’s got the negative side effect of triggering your body’s fight or flight system. That in turn makes it more difficult to focus because your reptilian brain shanghai’s your executive function. Re-calibrate & put your prefrontal cortex back in the driver’s seat by doing some simple breathing exercises: in 4 seconds, hold 7 seconds, out 8 seconds. Repeat at least 4 times.

Make a List

If your brain is feeling like a monkey swinging from idea vine to idea vine, grab a sheet of paper and do a brain dump. It’ll reduce your stress related to fear of forgetting and give you an objective way to look at what you have on your plate.

Make Your Bed

The simple act of making your bed is what’s known as a keystone habit – a simple process that, when done consistently, makes you more productive in other areas of life. Take 2 minutes to make yours right when you wake up and enjoy the benefits all day long.

Archive All Emails Older Than 1 Week

It takes about 2 minutes to do and brings you darn close to inbox zero (and frees up precious hard drive space). Chances are you’ll never need to touch those archived emails ever again – but if you do – you’ll know where to find them.

Clean Off Your Desk or Kitchen Counter

The messier your environment, the more difficult it is to focus. Set the timer on your phone for 15 minutes and go to town.

Create Something

When I’m feeling stuck or like a “failure” in one domain (e.g. work) or otherwise out of control, I head into the kitchen and bake – bread, cookies, crackers – you name it. It forces me to concentrate on the task at hand, is related to nourishing my family, a sentiment that bring me joy, saves me from buying packaged goods, and in fairly short order reminds me I can finish things. It also gives me the mental space to reflect on the thoughts racing around my head and synthesize them. Any small creative project will yield similar benefits.

Map Out Your Week

Take your long, laundry list, identify the top 3 priority tasks for each day and figure out what day you are going to do them. If you use a scheduling program, put them in your calendar as appointments.

Go To Bed Earlier

Lack of sleep has serious effects on our brain’s ability to function. When you’re sleep deprived, the part of the brain that controls language, memory, planning and sense of time is seriously impaired. In fact, a BBC article on the importance of sleep notes that folks who are awake for 17 hours in a row without sleeping perform as though they’ve had two glasses of wine & a blood alcohol level of 0.05%.

Work Out

You know you’ll feel better if you work out. Why is that? Well, adults in a 2007 study among noted that a three-month aerobic exercise program seemed to improve their concentration and overall brain functioning.
Researchers looking inside their brains could actually see that the regimen led to the formation of new neurons and more diverse, denser interconnections between them. Read more about the connection between exercise & your brain at the Daily Beast

Focus on One Task at a Time Using the Pomodoro Technique

Our brains work sequentially. Instead of doing two tasks at once, the brain actually toggles between whatever tasks are under way. Switching between tasks impairs our ability to learn and even impairs our IQ more than smoking marijuana. Bottom line: multi-tasking is a giant waste of time. Pick one task to focus on for 20-30 minutes. Allow yourself to do ONLY that task. Set a timer and get to work. When the bell rings, take a break for 2 or 3 minutes and then get to work on the next task.

Choose, Don’t React

You don’t have to do everything. You are in charge of what you do, not your to-do list. Make a simple mental shift and decide which tasks you choose to do or focus on right now. That simple act puts you back in control.


Not Just a Little, Either. Paste an Ear-to-Ear Grin on Your Face! New research published last year in the Journal of Psychological Science shows that smiling — and especially genuine smiling (where your eyes and mouth muscles are engaged) — may play a part in lowering heart rate after you’ve done something stressful.

Buy a Notebook to Capture Thoughts

Having one place to put your notes, thoughts, tasks makes you more organized. I would argue that a physical notebook is better than a virtual one because it is always accessible – but if you go virtual, that can work too. The key lies in the utter simplicity.

Find a Mentor & Follow Her Path

There are people who have done what you are trying to do in the past. Why reinvent the wheel? It’s totally unnecessary. Look around for someone who teach you what worked for them and then take their shortcuts.

Find One Task to Delegate or Cross Off Your List

I’ll bet you don’t ask yourself the question what aren’t I going to do very often. Anytime you are feeling overwhelmed is a good time to start.

Highlight the Critical Path to Your Destination

Sometimes you get so focused on your list that you lose the plot. Do you really need to do everything on your list to accomplish your objectives? What are the critical tasks that are likely to get you most of the way there? Create a new list with just those and see how fast your stress levels go down.

Eat Clean (No Sugary Snacks)

What you eat definitely impacts your brain. A sugary drink or food that spikes your blood sugar levels also triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin’s job is to pull excess glucose from the bloodstream, effectively storing it for later. Before long, your brain, which requires quite a bit of glucose to run properly, doesn’t have enough glucose & experiences a crisis of sorts. The net result – you feel loopy, spaced out and maybe even nervous. We lay people call this a “sugar crash” – and doctors call an episode like this hypoglycemia. Regardless of the name, it’s not good to consume lots of sugar if you need to be buttoned up.

Remind Yourself WHY

If you can reconnect with the reason you are doing something, it’s like rocket fuel. If you can’t, maybe it’s a sign you don’t really need to do it.

Make Sure You’re Not Confusing a To-Do with a Project

If you’ve got something large that’s been lingering on your list & it’s making you feel guilty, take two minutes and break it down into a series of smaller steps.

Write Something Down You’ve Already Done & Cross It Off

You see? You are making progress! Sometimes all you need is a reminder.

Stop Saying “Can’t” / Watch Your Language

If you believe you can crack through what is important, you can. If you don’t, you won’t. Rather than asking yourself

Help Someone Else with Something/Give Some of Your Time Away

Researchers have shown that when you give your time away, you actually become more productive.

Stand Up & Do Something In-Between Tasks

Give yourself a mental break and cleanse your palate in-between tasks.

Lock Yourself Out of Distracting Programs & Websites

Use the programs GetConcentrating.com or Freedom to keep yourself from wasting time. They are worth their weight in gold when you really need to focus.

Take a Moment to Reflect on What You Have Accomplished in the Past Few Months

Grab a sheet of paper and list the things that you have accomplished in the past.