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Managing actions can help cut stress

May 14, 2012

Peggy Hodges continues her 5 part series on “Getting Things Done.”  Do you have a tendency to get stuck on things? Do you experience too much stress? Learn how to move past these hurdles and experience higher efficiency.

By Peggy Hodges Rosser 


SAN ANGELO, Texas — Several weeks ago, I began a five-process journey through the book by David Allen, “Getting Things Done.”

The first process focused on the mind. Remember the “mind like water” reference? Let me review Allen’s theory:

“Imaging throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact. Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you.”

I’ve made a conscious effort to focus on keeping my mind like water and have been surprised at the thought process. I have been able to not overreact to situations. I can only control my reaction, and keeping a “mind like water” is a good visual to assist with this.

The second process is Managing Action. Allen states, “The key to managing all of your ‘stuff’ is managing your actions.” Allen defines “stuff” as “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step … as long as it’s still ‘stuff,’ it’s not controllable.”

Managing actions will help you identify the real options of where to place your time. You must make a choice about what to do at any point in time. Managing the actions is key.

Allen states: “Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined.” In defining, most time management systems work from the top down. Allen challenges that by suggesting we get in control of “what’s in your in-basket and on your mind right now.” He continues, “You’ll be better equipped to undertake higher-focused thinking when your tools for handling the resulting actions for implementation are part of your ongoing operational style.”

He supports this bottom-up process with this analogy: “There are more meaningful things to think about than your in-basket, but if your management of that level is not as efficient as it could be, it’s like trying to swim in baggy clothing.”

When you take care of what’s on your mind right now, find a place to put this stuff, you unstick your workflow. A direct result of unsticking your workflow is a mental freedom that allows you to think of ideas and visions for your company and your life.

Management of stuff can be divided into horizontal and vertical action. Horizontal action can be described as if you are slowly rotating, viewing everything. You scan your environment at 360 degrees, “seeing” all the different things that are happening in a 24-hour period. The thoughts track at first by category, work then personal life. With more practice the tracks begin to blur and your horizontal view includes it all at the same time.

To add to this process, there is also vertical management. When your mind settles on one of the things you noticed on the horizontal scan, you then begin to create the vertical support. For example, you see the phone and it reminds you to call a customer. The vertical part of that phone call deals with the purpose of the call, if they answer the phone what are you going to say and if the call goes to voice mail, will you leave a message or just your name and number. This is the vertical part.

The key, or as Allen refers to it, “The Major Change,” is getting it all out of your head. “Your conscious mind, like a computer screen, is a focusing tool, not a storage place. You can think about only two or three things at once … there’s only so much ‘stuff’ you can store in there and still have that part of your brain function at a high level.” This contributes to constantly being distracted, “focus is disturbed by their own internal mental overload,” Allen adds.

This ever-present mental stress state is like gravity; some don’t even realize they are experiencing stress. Allen says, “The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different they feel.”

I accept the challenge of managing stress that Allen presents and look forward to the next article where we learn how to manage workflow.

“Business Tips” was written by Peggy Hodges Rosser, Rural Business Development Specialist and Certified Business Adviser IV of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at

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