Red, Yellow, Green – Explained

Red, Yellow, Green: Explained

Recently on Instagram I have shared my system of red, yellow, green zones.  These three zones are correlated to a classification of stress levels.  As a personal trainer, and project leader the zone will outline and influence my planning and decision-making for both myself and my clients. 

This is a tool that I have gotten a lot of questions and feedback on recently, so I thought that I would explain the system here a bit more in detail.  

It works like this…

First, to utilize this system, the timeline must first be defined.  The timeline can be structured by a specific goal, for example a project deadline, baby due date, or race date.  Or the timeline can be structured by a calendar model, such as quarters, terms, or a year. 

Next step is to take a bird’s-eye view of the timeline, and map out all events, obligations, and known stressors.  The goal is to include as much as possible.  This list will then be used to predict how stress levels are going to be. 

Items to include might be but are not limited to:

  • Work deadlines, meetings, events, collaborations, presentations
  • Family events, birthdays, holidays, social events, parties
  • Vacations, work travel, visitors
  • Care giving, responsibilities, other obligations

The timeline itself should be a document or spreadsheet that can be edited, reviewed, and shared.  When I am working with a client, this is shared with me ahead of time and changes are updated weekly.   

Once the timeline is established the next step is to classify each week as being red, yellow, green. 

Red = High stress zone. 
This zone is categorized by urgency or emergency.  Free time will be extremely limited, and stress levels will be high.  There might be large scale stressors outside of the individual’s realm of control.  The red zone is manageable for a short amount of time, but not long-term.

Yellow = Stressful zone. 
This zone is categorized by many stressors without the sense of urgency or emergency.  Free time will be limited, and stress levels will be elevated or high for shortened intervals.  Here the individual might perceive the stressors as being within the realm of control.  The individual can influence the situation and impact the stressors.  The yellow zone is manageable for a longer duration of time but will come at a cost.

Green = Manageable stress zone.
This zone is categorized by sustainability.  Free time is available.  The individual will have a high level of control and can impact the situation and stressors.  Here there is a balance between stressors and recovery.  The green zone is manageable for a long duration of time.

I teach my clients to use this visualization tool to outline the optimal areas for growth and development.  As well as identify areas of maintenance and down scaling.  By classifying each week with a zone color, decisions regarding planning and structure can then be made more effectively. 

Here is an example on how I plan for green, yellow, and red zones.      

Green = Optimal time for growth and development. 
The green zone is a great place for learning, pushing yourself, or adding in new elements.  It is also a great time for developing new skills, and making improvements to patterns, routines, or processes.   

Yellow = Targeted focus. 
Efforts need to be targeted, as resources are limited.  I recommend a reduced emphasis on learning and limiting the number of new elements.  Likewise, I suggest increased levels of repetition and familiarity.  The ability to push above and beyond will be limited and will come at a cost.  Cost benefit analysis should be implemented. Preparations should be made for red zone.  Implement strategies and routines in preparation for future challenge.    

Red Zone = Auto pilot. 
No new elements, or learning.  Reliance on routines and processes previously set in place.  Maintenance and preservation are the main targets.  Plans should be made to descend to yellow and green zone.     

So, to review the first step is to create a defined timeline.  The timeline is most useful when it is a shared document that is dynamic and viewed on a consistent basis. 

Then, after establishing a timeline you can apply the framework of the Red, Yellow, Green framework to communicate and predict stress zones.  This will impact the availability of resources like time and energy. 

And finally, the Red, Yellow, Green framework is helpful when you want to gain an overview on how to best make appropriate decisions at the appropriate time.   

Let me know if this helps clear up the confusion. 

If you found this for the first time, let me know if this is something you think you would like to try out.

I would love to hear from you.  And wish you the best of luck with your training.


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