Dion's random ramblings

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How do you cope with stress and pressure? (and remain productive)

Like many others I returned to work early in January after a break over Christmas and the new year.  It was great to get back into the swing of things.  I love what I do, and I like being engaged in multiple tasks; I even enjoy working with a bit of pressure!

However, 2010 is a massive year for me!  First, we have a large stadium prayer gathering in Cape Town (in the new Cape Town stadium on the 22nd of March 2010 - see http://www.gdop-sa.com for more details).

Next, we have an international conference for the Global Day of Prayer from the 17th - 23rd of May at the Cape Town international Convention Centre.  I am responsible for handling the programme at this conference, but I also play a central role in most of the other committees for the events.  You can see more about this conference at http://www.gdop2010.com - it is actually two events, a conference from the 18th to the 20th and then a stadium event at the Newlands Rugby stadium with a global television broadcast on the 23rd of May).  There is more work to be done for this conference than I have hours in my day!

Next, there is the Lausanne Congress on World evangelization which is taking place here in Cape Town in October this year.  I am a member of the arrangements team, as well as serving on the Theological working group, heading up the social media strategy, and I am also one of the officially invited delegates to participate in the congress (there are 50 persons from South Africa who were invited to participate in the congress, so it is a great honour to be among that number.  I am fairly certain that I must be among the most junior of the group, and that my practical involvement in the congress is what got me the spot!  There are certainly far more gifted theologians and leaders in our context!  However, I shall do my best). You can read more about the Lausanne Congress at http://www.capetown2010.com and follow Lausanne on Facebook and on Twitter.

Together with these big responsibilities I also have two new books coming out in 2010.  I had a very tight deadline to write a book on workplace spirituality and faith at work for Struik publishers (this book will be launched at our Global Day of Prayer conference in May - so, the content must be finished in the next week in order for it to be edited, proofed and sent to India or China for printing (I'm not sure where it is printed, but it is in the East, and then it is shipped back to South African in bulk).  Please do pray for me!  I have been waking VERY early and going to bed VERY late to try and finish the 12 chapters for the book!  I need both strength and inspiration to meet the deadline (I have done 7 chapters and have 5 more to go).

The other book that I am working on is a reworking of my doctoral research which Cambridge Scholars Press is publishing entitled 'Why you may not be who you think you are! Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and theology'.  I'm afraid that is on the back, back burner for a little while (until May at least).

Apart from these big projects I have my regular work to contend with.  I am a chaplain in a company that has 2000 employees, I am a chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer, serving on the regular working team of various ministries and boards, and then also still doing a bit of teaching and some post-graduate supervision at the University of Pretoria and the University of Stellenbosch where I hold academic posts.

Most importantly I have to take time for my family and my faith, and of course there is my health....

When I consider all of this I do get a little stressed at times!!!

SO, here's the question... What do you do to remain productive and cope with stress?  Please not that emphasis on remaining productive while coping with stress.  I love my work, and I like to be busy, but I want to find some tools to keep a 'handle' on it.

Here's a little video that explains what I am currently doing.

However, I'd love to hear your wisdom please!


  • Hi Dion,
    Sounds like more than little house full of responsibilities! What helps me are the following practical things:
    1. To keep my mind empty of things I've got to remember (write them down as to-do's) and group them by the context that they require my attention in. Then I simply wip out the relevant list and deal with only those things that needs attention now. A tool that helps with this is Thinking Rock (although you might find another one you like more).
    2. Another strategy for me is to keep to a good diet no matter how busy it gets (that might take a little preparation, but your energy levels stay high the whole day, which makes you much more productive). This includes 4-5 smaller meals a day; Protein with every meal; 7-8 fruits and veg through the day; NO SUGAR!!!
    3. Lastly, I keep my list of what I have to do this week seperate from the long list of stuff I still need to get round to 'in the near future'. Each week I then focus on what I need to do for that week and pop the other stuff in the 'big list'. When the next week starts I review the long list and transfer items in the week list for attention. I have a deal with myself that when I close my PC to rest at the end of the week, I must have ticked off everything in the week's to-do list.
    4. Okay, very lastly, take at least 15 minutes every day to do something you consider as a complete 'time out' (focusing your mind on something complete different, such as a novel, television programme, daily reflection, etc.)

    A mouthful, but hopefully some ideas to spark more of your own.

    By Blogger Lizette, at 1:15 PM  

  • Hey my captain - I am praying for you. Keep up the awesome work. I am off on a Two day retreat next week to allow the Lord to 'fill me' and to give God space to speak. This is what gets me by, but am feeling quite tired at the mo.
    Prayers are with u,

    By Blogger Delme Linscott, at 2:59 PM  

  • Hi Dion,

    You know I think we get the essence of what's needed in stressful times if we are to stay productive in Eugene Peterson's translation of Jesus' comfort and exhortation to us found in Matthew 11:28 - 30. Here's how he puts it in the Message:

    28 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. 29 Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 30 Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

    God bless you,

    Pastorsi (Pastor Simon Measures - Cheltenham England)

    By Blogger Simon, at 8:29 PM  

  • Hi friends,

    This is all great advice! Thank you.

    On facebook one friend suggested that I should get others to help me with some of my tasks. I agree! However, I have found in the past that managing unproductive people can be an added source of stress. On the whole however, when one works with passionate, committed individuals it is true that one can get more done and manage one's personal levels of stress and pressure.

    Another person suggested that I should sleep more. I have always found sleep to be an interesting balance for me. If I sleep too much (6-7 hours) I feel groggy and listless. I find that I am generally more alert when I have slept 5-6 hours. I can cope on 4.5 to 5 hours for a few days in a row, but anything less than that and I start to feel tired and anxious. So, indeed, well managed sleep is worthwhile.

    I suppose we need to understand our circadian rhythms. Some people need more sleep, others need less. We all need as much sleep as we need! My weakness tends to be working very late and getting up very early. I can fall asleep quite quickly, and I am also quite comfortable with getting out of bed... But, I need to ensure that I sleep at least 5.5 to 6 hours while I am busy.

    Then, a few friends suggested various spiritual disciples, including prayer, silence, and various retreats. I also agree that these are exceptionally helpful disciplines. Prayer and solitude are part of my daily routine (although in small doses as time allows). I do also like to take time for a 5 day retreat each year. I have not been able to do so since taking up my new post (leave scarce and I save it to spend time with my family). However, as a chaplain I should consider motivating the need for extended time for a retreat each year. I find that it allows me to pray, gain perspective and listen for God's guidance and leading.

    Well, I appreciate the advice and I look forward to hearing any other advice that may come!

    With rich blessing,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 9:09 PM  

  • This is a 'hot' topic in the office right now. We are saying; 'Phew, what happened in 2009?' and when we look ahead into 2010, we say; 'Eek, not again?' Something has changed in our context that our exisiting personal strategies are not aligned with?

    Stress is not a single event; but, rather an accumulation of stressors that exceed a threshold at some point in time. It may take a single stressor, a trigger, to tip the barrel.

    Stephen Covey's 'First things first' has helped me alot; 4th generation time management.

    Executive coaching is becoming more useful for our senior guys too. We some times need a bit of facilitation in our 'space' to get new perspective.

    I also have faith in biblical promises; 'I will never challenge you beyond what you are capable of' and 'When you are weak, I am strong'

    Blessings- Dale

    By Blogger Dale, at 6:09 AM  

  • Hi Dale,

    Thanks for the input. Indeed, I have found coaching to be extremely useful in keeping the balance between stress and productivity. You're quite correct, I believe, that stress is a process not a single event! I love the way you've phrased that.

    Lizette's advice is also very helpful in this regard.

    Lastly, with regards to faith in the Biblical promises - this has been a source of constant blessing and encouragement. I have posted a few times on my blog that I keep daily 'reminders' in my electronic diary (in outlook) that have verses such as 1 Tim 6:6 'But godliness with contentment is of great gain' and Romans 12:12 'Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer'

    I guess I need a little bit of 'external' discipline, and a little bit more internal peace (the two are connected). The more internal peace I experience the less I will take on unnecessarily, plus the more I will do that is necessary and in line with God's will. Of course there will always be tasks and expectations that come from elsewhere that one will have to deal with.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Rich blessing,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 8:26 AM  

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