Why Stress is Worth Engaging: How to Reframe it for Fullfillment and Success

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Has your work been infected with overwhelm? Do you find yourself falling out of love with the very things that made you choose this career in the first place?

The answer is “yes” for so many people that “Work” has almost become synonymous with “Stress.”

And why? Why is our work being stripped of it’s soul? We like to use the lack of time as the scapegoat.

“I don’t have enough time.” “If only there were more hours in the day.”

THEN we’d get it all done. THEN we wouldn’t feel all of this pressure.

But that’s simply isn’t true.

I’m going to show you how you actually have plenty of time to get everything done and explain what’s actually keeping your work from overflowing with fun and excitement.

Why We Let Our Dreams Die

7:30am on a Monday morning.

I’m sitting in Mr. Paulinski’s Economics class in the back of the room. It feels like 10 lb weights are attached to each of my eyelids. I can hardly keep them from slamming shut.

It’s not that I found the subject boring. Quite the opposite actually. Secretly, I have always wanted to start my own hedge fund. I knew this would stretch my limits like nothing else and I could think of no better way to supply all of my crazy ideas like artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources, and elaborate magic tricks with the sufficient cash to get them off the ground.

I fantasized about executing million dollar trades while Mr. Paulinkski droned on with his dry, slide-after-slide lecture style.

I KNEW deep down that someday I would make this a reality.

Fast forward 10 years later.

I’m an entrepreneur running a printing company, developing iPhone apps on the side and generally trying to keep my head above water with a plate constantly full of meetings, projects, employee issues, partnership negotiations, fires to put out, etc. I was drowning in to-do list items, most of which I didn’t even find exciting anymore.

But still no hedge fund. Not even an inch closer.


I wasn’t quite sure. My recurring excuse was that I didn’t have the time. I was already so busy. How could I tackle a project as massive as a hedge fund? So I kept weakly promising myself “Someday.”

“Someday I’ll get around to it.”

The weeks and months would pass by with still no progress.

So I got fed up. This wasn’t fun anymore. My days were booked end to end with meetings and tasks but my projects felt like they were moving in slow motion. It didn’t make any sense.

And if I ever got around to working on something that I actually cared about, I ended up feeling guilty because that meant I was putting off something that I needed to do.

My work felt soulless, empty of the passion it once had.

Eventually I had enough. The immense frustration I was feeling pushed me to generate hard data: I would measure how I was spending all of my time. I would get to the bottom of this.

So I shifted gears and became a time detective, determined to discern where the hell all of my time was going. The results were startling.

The Mind Is A Terrible Place To Think

I discovered that I was actually only spending 20% of my working hours on the things I thought were using all my time and overwhelming me.

Where was 80% of my time going? Synthetic demand tasks. They weren’t even that important. I was staying busy but without generating results. It was a sort of productive laziness that only succeeded in producing more stress.

I had to explore this further so I went deeper down the rabbit hole of time. I started studying the people in my network that I admired who were also feeling overwhelmed.

I found that in spite of being successful, those that were stressed had the exact same time patterns. I thought to myself: “Now this is getting interesting…”.

So I decided to take my role of Time Detective to a whole new level. I read every single book and took every single time management course I could possibly get my hands on. David Allen Getting Things Done. Tony Robbins RPM. Stephen Covey First Things First... Just to name a few.

And here’s the crazy thing: This problem had actually been solved many times before. And so very elegantly. I was shocked.

This disconnect between what I thought was eating up my time and what was actually eating up my time revealed an important truth:

My time problem wasn’t actually a time problem.

The barriers keeping my work exciting and energizing weren’t physical time constraints. They were mental bandwidth restraints.

I didn’t need more hours in the day. I needed more space in my head.

I was suffering from cognitive overload. My mental bandwidth was getting devoured by all of the demands on me. And I had no way of fending them off or figuring out what was actually important.

You see, the human brain just isn’t very good at prioritization. It overvalues urgency and overlooks long-term impact.

Things we don’t have to do often never get done.

But the desire to do those things doesn’t go away. So this weighs on us. It hurts our self image. We’ll go through our days feeling disengaged because the actions of supreme importance and meaning are being constantly neglected.

We ignore the things that really matter and keep checking the boxes on the have-to-dos just to keep our head above water. This is exactly the opposite of the formula for success.

Eat The Spinach:The Secret To Passionate Work

Since we actually have enough time and it’s mental bandwidth that’s the true problem, how do we escape the clutches of cognitive overload? How do we free up some of that coveted mental bandwidth?

I’ll show you!

Pull out your to-do list for the day and let’s pretend that you are Pop-Eye.

Imagine all of the items that you have to do (but don’t necessarily want to do) are weights that you carry around with you. These weights are what we call synthetic demands. They are high importance(at least to other people), but usually low-impact.

Tasks that excite and inspire you are like a can of spinach. For those of you not in the know, spinach gave pop-eye crazy amounts of strength, and energy.

How do you figure out what the Spinach is for you? Simple. Ask: “What do I really want to do today?”


If we don’t do this, synthetic demands are constantly replenished. Someone’s always around to hand you another weight.

When we ask the age old: “What do I need to do today?”, we end up spending most of our days trying to offload the weights. We start with the synthetic demands. But when the stack doesn’t get any smaller we get so tired from holding all of that weight that we have no energy left for what really matters most. This causes us to believe the illusion that we have no time.

You end up so drained you say to yourself “tomorrow.”

And “tomorrow” becomes “someday.”

What does “someday” become?

But what happens if we started with and planned our days around the spinach? We’d get an instant boost and feel WAY more energized throughout the day. The weights would start to feel weightless and we’d achieve way more than we thought was possible.

So how does this work in real life?

The secret is to plan your day and block out time dedicated to and centered around the non-urgent high impact tasks that you want to do before ever considering the rest of the must-do's & synthetic demands.

Example (High Value Non-Urgent Tasks):

10am - 11am: Brainstorming for new national advertising campaign

2pm - 3pm: Shoot video blog segment to connect and grow our audience

Now that your day is focused on energizing items that you are committed to, the magic really starts to happen. At this point, you’ve eaten your spinach, and you can expand the block of time to group these high impact items with a bunch of other urgent, demanding, or important items that you “must do” but are also related in some way to the high value task.

Example of Value Grouping:

10am - 12:30pm: Brainstorming for new ad campaign

  • Respond to Shannon’s email about ad budget adjustment
  • Schedule meeting with Graphic Designer
  • Clean Desk
  • Get lunch with Maggie (to catch up on life and discuss campaign ideas)

2pm - 5pm: Shoot video blog segment to connect and grow our audience

  • Get some exercise, film outside
  • Hold team meeting, filming together will be a fun team building activity
  • Review and respond to previous blog and video comments
  • Copy the tradeshow team so they can use video for promotional material

All the sudden these 10 overwhelming “to-do list” items become 2 easy to manage chunks connected to something you want to do. It can really be that easy.

The way I do it is to knock off a few super easy synthetic demands to get “warmed up”, and into a state a flow, and then I really go for it on the high impact tasks I’ve selected to structure my day around. The trick here is you actually gain energy from doing these value tasks. Then knocking out the demanding, urgent tasks becomes a breeze because they are connected to something you want to do, instead of all things you have to do.

I know that sounds a little simplistic, but the bottom line is that most people first devote ALL of their energy on their stack of weights(aka demand items). That’s like doing a full body workout and completely wearing yourself out right before playing your favorite sport. You’re energy is going to rapidly evaporate and your muscles will start to deteriorate before you even get to the fun part. Over time, you’ll be able to handle fewer and fewer demands, getting less and less done, while feeling more and more incapable or resentful of your job, not even able to enjoy the parts that used to juice you. That’s the vicious cycle of uninspired work.

Heavy stuff right? After I realized all of this I felt like I had cracked the code on this problem. The rubik’s cube of overwhelm had been solved.

“This is IT!” I thought. I had finally figured it out.

Imagine getting 2 or 3 fulfilling and high-impact items done everyday... That’s over 700 major moves you can make in a single year! (and all without the burden of overwhelm.)

But there’s only one small problem here….

Time Management Systems Don’t Work

I soon realized why so many of these books and time management systems are created…

With all of the solutions on the market people are still looking for answers and that’s why hot and new systems continue to be released. People like you and me hop from one system to the next hoping to get back to a place of fun and freedom with our work.

But it doesn’t happen. Because these systems don’t actually work in real life.

They provide great conceptual answers but terrible behavioral answers.

After all of my research I found exactly zero people that actually stuck with these systems. Why? Because these paper-based programs are clunky, static, and inefficient. It takes a ton of upfront effort to get the wheels turning and they fail to leverage the incredible technology we now have at our disposal.

Can you imagine trying to run a thriving business today using a typewriter and a landline phone? Well that’s what it’s like trying to manage today’s demands with a paper to-do list.

Even digital to-do lists are just taking the paper system and placing it on a screen with a few flashy features that often turn out to be distractions anyway. They are still “Dumb”, no intelligence involved. No way for the system to see how everything is interconnected.

These systems end up becoming one more thing getting in the way.

I wanted something better.

I wanted something that could learn what mattered most to me, that could grasp how all of the areas of my life interacted so I could be laser-focused on how I want to live my life without getting bogged down in the quicksand of neverending synthetic demands.

That’s why I built DaVinci - an artificial intelligence time management system… and you're going to get a taste of it right now.

It takes all of the best elements from the previous paper-based solutions and harnesses the tremendous computing power of cutting edge technology so that you can download your dreams, goals, objectives, and even synthetic demands into DaVinci’s external brain. This frees up mental bandwidth, and keeps you connected to what you really want most to finally make work fun and exciting again.

It’s become the cockpit for my dreams. Now things don’t get lost in the clouds.

I finally have gauges for my life! I always know where I am, where I’m headed and what’s most important to keep me on track and energized.

DaVinci has done more for me than change my relationship with work, it has changed my relationship with life.

I can now say that in addition to all my previously mentioned roles, I’m now the proud founder of a $15 million hedge fund (and growing) while simultaneously producing a hollywood movie based on the NYT bestselling book “Sex on the Moon”. But the real kicker is I always have the time to ask myself that key question: “What do I WANT to do today?”.

As I write those words, part of me doesn’t believe that this is my real life. But it is.

And you can have this too.

You can eliminate the cognitive overload that’s syphoning the soul out of your work so that you feel enthralled with your list of high-impact action items for the day.

Currently I’m recruiting a small pool of candidates to test drive DaVinci. If that sounds like you sign up here.

Make Today The Best Work Day You’ve Had in Months

I’ve also built something special for the Delivering Happiness community. I can’t offer DaVinci to everyone but I’ve built a special tool to help you take the back-buckling weight off your shoulders and reduce the cognitive overload we’ve been discussing.

This 5-minute tool will help you free up your mental bandwidth by systematically revealing your high impact value items, demand items, and distractions from your to-do list so you get done what’s important and impactful without wearing yourself out on the synthetic demands before you get a chance to eat your Spinach.

I call it the “DaVinci Time Bot” and it’s a fun tool to play around with your task list and finally get out of overwhelm. Even though it’s a basic and manual process, you could literally run your daily work life simply by using this tool. (DaVinci’s artificial intelligence handles all of these same processes automatically)

Click here to take the next step, to use the tool & have the best work day you’ve had in months. Click here to start the change and achieve your goals:

Davinci Time Management Tool

I’m living proof that it’s not only possible to get done what we need to get done, but that we can also do what we love without getting caught up in to-do list claustrophobia.

So tell me...what’s your hedge fund? What are those things you love about work that you just never seem to get around to? What would you do if cognitive overload was no longer a problem?

Not having the time is no longer an excuse.

“Someday” starts today.

Learn more about DaVinci here. [And I'd love to hear what you think of it, in the comments below.]

Born as a book, Delivering Happiness is now a culture coachsultancy and a movement on a mission to inspire passion + purpose in workplaces around the world.

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About the Author

Zaharah McKinney

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