I’m a very ambitious, low-energy, high-strung, pragmatic, motivated pessimist. Confusing??? Yeah, well at least you don’t have to live in my head every day. The point is, I am always working on a project, always dreaming, but easily overwhelmed. I’m in the process of devising a system (it’s still in beta!) to ensure that I make progress even when I feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions at once. Hopefully, the guidelines I’m following will also help me save my sanity, which I often feel slipping through my fingers.
So why am I sharing these tips with you? Of course, I hope they will be helpful, but I have to admit that my reasons are partially selfish; I’m looking to get feedback from you on all the ways that YOU manage stress and work through insane, overwhelming days.
Feel free to comment below and share your tricks; whatever they are!
Keep a Diary
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; upgrading my planner has changed my life! I’ve always used diaries to keep track of daily tasks and to ease the burden of my memory… but recently I’ve taken it to an entirely different level. I plan my daily chores, my work activities… I track my spending and my goals. I keep records of business contacts. I write lists and ideas for everything from online shopping to motivational quotes. I even keep an editorial calendar.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is carefully filed in my planner… There’s a section for it all, as well as an Index of all the sections. It’s much easier to keep pushing forward when I know that everything is neatly catalogued. Organisation breeds motivation in me, and my planner is the cornerstone of my personal organisation.
When you’re overwhelmed, there’s too much on your mind. I’ve found a great way to download all the data clogging up my brain, put it on an external hard drive and free some valuable space on my operating system. I just grab a sheet of paper and write it all down. What I need to do, what I’m afraid I’ll forget, who I need to call, what needs cleaning, what I’ve been putting off, which emails I need to respond to… It all goes down in no particular order. Then, I might let myself ignore the list for an hour, for an afternoon, or even for a day.
Whenever I’m ready, I go back and sort the list into what I need to do NOW, what I should do this week, what I can eliminate, what I can delegate etc.
I swear to you; learning how to do a brain dump is life-changing. I didn’t invent it… you can learn more about it here. There’s also a list of trigger questions which can make the process easier the first few times you try it. Take my advice though; it works!
Ever heard a baby cry non-stop then had their parent explain it away with some implausible statement like ‘He just needs a nap’ or ‘She’s just hungry’? If you aren’t a parent yourself, you may have wondered; ‘Why would a kid cry like that just because he needs a nap? Why wouldn’t he just go to sleep? That’s what I do when I’m tired…’
Here’s the thing though; we get older and we learn to fend for ourselves, to feed ourselves and to communicate what’s wrong with WORDS… but we never really grow up. We never function well if we’re tired, hungry, dirty or ill.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look around you; is your space cluttered? What have you eaten today? Look in the mirror; Do you like what you see? The very first thing you need to do, before you try to do EVERYTHING, is to take care of yourself. When you’re well-rested, clean, healthy and pumped up on all your essential vitamins and minerals you’ll feel like you can conquer the world… or at least the first task on your to-do list!
In the commercial garment industry, for instance, one person can spend all day cutting fabric. They don’t draw designs, they don’t take measurements, they don’t sweep the scraps up off the floor, they don’t do any stitching, they don’t do any steaming; they just cut fabric. All those other jobs are done by other people. This speeds up the production process; the fact that one person only has ONE JOB. Although the job is now ‘specialised’, it actually takes far less skill than would be required for one person to produce a garment from start to finish.
When task number one on your to-do list feels like too much to handle, try to break it down into multiple, small tasks. Specialise. Maybe you can’t do the whole task, but there is probably ONE JOB that you can do.
Productivity is like a snowball… once you’ve ticked off one or two items on your list, you’ll gain momentum and the others will seem easier and easier. I call it getting into the ‘zone’. When I’m floundering, I break my tasks down to their simplest subsets and I start knocking them out… eventually I tend to find that I’m focused; I’m in the ‘zone’ and I’m suddenly feeling unstoppable!
Daily Top Three
This is a tip I that I’m still trying to implement in my daily life… If your schedule for the day includes ten tasks, identify the top three. Be ruthless about it. If you could only complete one of the ten, which one should it be? Which would be next? And next?
Okay, stop there.
If you’re feeling like you can’t get it all done; delegate, cancel or postpone the other seven. Focus on your top three; there’s a reason you put them first!
Remember, the pounding in your head, the racing of your heart, or the profound need to throw all your lists in the bin and JUST SLEEP are nothing to feel guilty about. It’s your body trying to send you a message. You may want to be a superhero, but you are only human. Forgive yourself for it.
My personal productivity strategy is still a work in progress, but I definitely feel like I’m on to something. I hope you agree.
Don’t forget to comment and let me know if you have found any other strategies that really work!