Stressed at Work? Why Poor Time Management Might Not Be Your Problem

Stressed? It's Not Just About Time ManagementStressed? It's Not Just About Time ManagementSometimes, with a deadline looming, I find myself at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night checking the bank account rather than writing the article that needs writing. Or even now, writing this, I took a quick break to check out some Emmy awards show news and see when Fashion Police will be on later tonight.

So am I a procrastinator? Am I bored? Am I just a poor time manager? I've decided that I'm none of the above-at least, not completely. The verdict is that I'm actually short on bandwidth. This Time magazine article, "The Mistake Busy People Make," has me rethinking my entire philosophy about time management. It essentially says that busy people assume they are short on time-which any busy mom would agree is true-but they're also short on bandwidth, that is, cognitive resources that allow us to focus, learn, and reason.

As the article explains, it's like this: your brain can only handle so much focus. So while you'd like to be completely focused on the job at hand, if your bandwidth has been taxed, your mind might be zooming around, unable to concentrate. It makes sense for me: writing requires a lot of focus, but my bandwidth is taxed every waking moment by my kids, and when they're asleep for naps, I jump right into working, further depleting my stores of bandwidth. By 8 p.m., when I finally have time to sit down and work again, it only makes sense why I might not be able to focus and why celebrity gossip sites start to taunt me.

Even when you're not working on something, it can be using up bandwidth, like a bigger project that you know will take a lot of time and focus. So now, instead of feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I'm taking my new-found knowledge and putting it to use: I'm going to focus on becoming a better bandwidth manager. After all, there is nothing worse than setting aside time for a two-hour project only to get half an hour of actual focused work. Talk about a waste of time and bandwidth!

So, what's the best way to deal?

Related: 6 signs it's time to quit your job - today

Here are 3 tips for managing your bandwidth:

1.) Recognize the difference
Recognizing which tasks require focus and mental resources will help you know when to schedule them.

2.) Refresh your bandwidth
Do something you love to set your mind free and free up some focus. It could be working out, watching a movie, or just relaxing. I find that I need the break most when I'm at my busiest, when I don't know how I'm going to get everything done. It truly does help to sort of "reset" your mental resources and be more productive the next time you sit down to work. I love the idea the article mentioned of "secret Tuesdays" - scheduling imaginary meetings simply to recharge. I just need to start making that time a real priority.

3.) Block your time appropriately
If you have a huge project, it's better to block off four hours of time in a row, rather than spread the hours throughout the day, according to the article. It seems obvious, but I often find myself trying to get as much of a big project done in a short window of time, when I'd be better off doing another less mentally taxing task.

I'm hoping that just being aware of the issue of bandwidth and mental focus will help me better schedule my days and be more productive. It definitely can't hurt to give it a try. Besides, even if it doesn't work, at least I get to watch Fashion Police tonight, guilt free!

- By Erin Whitehead
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