Ever feel like your to-do list is so huge that it’s hopeless? It gets so big that you feel frozen, with zero idea of what to do next. Which, of course, limits your ability to think straight or process information in a rational way. Leading to complete shutdown.
That, my friend, is overwhelm mode.
If asked about what leads to overwhelm, most people would say that there’s just too much to do and too little time to do it in. But is that really why you get overwhelmed?
It’s time for a bit of honesty. Your problem isn’t how little time you have, it’s what you’re choosing to do with it.
I recently covered how to prioritize, so you can start spending more time on the things that matter to you (which, by the way, are your true priorities – not the other stuff you spend much of your time on). Today I want to talk about some of the things that get in your way from being able to prioritize well. And reveal to you 7 secrets that will help you get control of your to-do list (and hence your time), ditch the overwhelm, and be more peacefully productive (and hence more balanced).
Because, although you can’t “manage” time, you can manage how you spend the time you have.
Table of Contents
Secret #1: Multi-tasking makes you less productive (not more)
The truth is, multi-tasking isn’t what the name implies. Because you can’t do 5 productive things at once (or even 3 or 2 things). When you “multi-task”, you’re really task- switching. And the back-and-forth is inefficient.
Who in their right mind says the following?
“I’ve got 2 articles I’m (sort of) reading, 4 opened projects on my desktop I’m perusing, 2 half-done memo’s I’m writing, 3 spreadsheets laid out on my desktop that I’m looking over (as we speak) and an open inbox that I check every 5-8 minutes to ensure I don’t miss a thing. I’m going for my most productive day ever!”
Answer: no one. Yet this is exactly what you’re doing when multi-tasking.
Multi-tasking is inefficient, leads to more errors and increases stress and anxiety. And the science backs that up. Researchers at the University of California Irvine even found that your brain takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track every time you get distracted by unrelated things. Which, of course, is what multi-tasking really is. And I’m guessing that’s not the result you intended.
What to do instead
Ditch the multi-tasking and instead block off a set period to focus on one specific task and/or project at a time – and forget about everything else until that time is up. This is called time-blocking. And it works.
Time blocking will help you stay focused and hence be more productive. Which means that you’ll get more done in the course of a week than you ever did when multi-tasking. Plus, the stress, overwhelm, and anxiety caused by multi-tasking will disappear.
Secret #2: Too many priorities means no priorities
When super-busy, it’s easy to think that everything is a priority. Which is one reason you feel so overwhelmed. But if you have lots of “priorities”, then you really have none. Having more than 2 or 3 priorities at once will make it difficult to focus on anything, which is likely to lead to multi-tasking (and we’ve been over why multi-tasking is bad).
And never forget: you can’t do it all.
If you’re worried that you’ll forget the things you aren’t prioritizing, don’t. All you need is a good system in place to help you with that (more on that in a second).
And if you worry about dropping some balls, it’s time for a bit of honesty. Because you’re going to drop balls if you try to focus on everything (or too many things). And in that case, you’ll have zero control over the balls that get dropped.
Wouldn’t you rather have control over what gets dropped or pushed back?
Besides, this isn’t a static concept. When you prioritize this way, you get more done and check things off your list. Allowing you to re-prioritize what’s left and keep moving forward.
Secret #3: You have a choice
This is all about shifting your mindset from thinking “I have no choice” (and playing the victim) to understanding and accepting that you get to choose. Sorry to be harsh, but I call BS on “I have no choice” thinking. Not only do you have a choice, but you likely have many. They’re just difficult to see when operating from a victim-hood mentality.
The reality is that you have control over whether you feel overwhelmed. Overwhelm results primarily from:
- taking on too much
- refusing to delegate
- saying “yes” when you know you should say “no”
- not prioritizing properly
And you have a choice over every single one of these things.
How to start choosing
I want you to take 100% responsibility over your life, your choices, and how you spend your time. It’s time to acknowledge, accept, and embrace that you have control – and move yourself out of victim-hood. Only you can make this choice (no one else can).
But here’s the thing: this is empowering. So, instead of making this scary, accept that this is about giving you POWER and CONTROL (which I’m betting you’ve said you want more of). This is one of the most important secrets I’m sharing with you today. Because if you don’t embrace it, then nothing will change for you (and I mean nothing).
Look, there’s a limited amount of time in the day. And that isn’t changing. Instead of focusing on how little time there is (which is completely out of your control), start focusing on what you can do with the time you have. And get it done.
Secret #4: Perfection isn’t possible, but “good enough” is
So, I have a confession: I’m a perfectionist. Which happens to be one of my “favorite” ways to get overwhelmed. And I know that I’m not alone. If you’re like me, I want you to acknowledge that you’re only human. You’re not perfect – nor will you ever be.
It’s time to adopt a new standard and embrace being good enough. Because perfection is impossible but good enough isn’t (it’s 100% do-able). And it still results in good work product. How do you embrace “good enough”?
Admittedly this is difficult (for me, at least). But it’s important to shift your thinking about perfectionism. Because it’s leading to overwhelm and certain failure (it will eventually lead to total burnout).
Tricks to help you embrace “good enough”
Try setting time limits. Allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to finish a project. And when you hit your time limit, let it go and move on. I find it easier to let go and adopt a “good enough” mentality when I set my limits at the outset of each project. It’s as though I’ve made a contract with myself – and it helps keep me in line.
Secret #5: There are items on your to-do list that don’t need to be done
Some of what’s on your to-do list shouldn’t be there. Your to-do list should only contain urgent priorities, yet you’ve got a lot of stuff on there that doesn’t fall into this category. Am I right?
Additionally, just because something is a priority to someone else doesn’t mean that it’s your priority. This is important to understand – because you’ve likely got a lot of stuff that you feel pressured to prioritize even thought they aren’t your priorities. And it’s time to drop these items completely (because they’re keeping you overwhelmed).
How to pair down your to-do list
Review your to-do list and ask yourself what can be dropped – forever. To help you go through this process, ask yourself what would happen if it never got done (and be honest with your answer). Also, look for something that’s a “should” (if you’re not sure what a “should” is, read this). I want you to identify and root those suckers out – because life’s too short to waste it doing things you feel you “should” be doing (yet don’t care about).
Secret #6: Not everything on your to-do list needs to be done by you
Here’s a crazy concept: you’re not required to do everything on your to-do list personally. No one expects that of you (other than maybe yourself). It’s time to delegate everything that can be delegated.
If you’re anything like me, you find it difficult to delegate. After all, it’s hard to give up control and even harder to trust that someone else will do a good job.
But I’ve got to tell you, delegating is a must-do if you want control over your life.
And remember, it’s okay to go with “good enough” (in case you’re worrying whether someone else will do as good of a job as you would). You’re not aiming for perfection.
How to delegate with more ease
I’ve learned to ask myself an important question every time I need to delegate something – a question I want you to ask of yourself. Is it more important to have control over your life or over every item on your to-do list? When I re-frame what “control” over my life really means, the answer is always that I want control over my life. And looking at it from this perspective makes it easier for me to delegate those things that can be delegated. Every. Single. Time.
Secret #7: Simple, quick, and easy doesn’t mean that it should be done first (or even at all)
This is something many people do – and it’s a huge mistake. If you ever go through an extremely busy day crossing off small items from your list (thinking you’re progressing as a result) only to end up feeling overwhelmed and wondering what you really got done, then this is the likely cause.
What’s the problem? You’re prioritizing based on simple, quick, and easy instead of based on what’s truly important. And it’s time to prioritize the truly important – not the simple and quick.
Focusing on the simple and quick will give you a false sense of accomplishment and will rapidly lead you into a state of panicked overwhelm. Because the important stuff will become more urgent.
What to do instead
The fix to this is proper prioritization and delegating what can be delegated. This doesn’t mean that you don’t consider how long a project will take after you’ve decided that it’s a priority (because you should). But the mere fact that it’s simple and quick doesn’t mean that it’s a priority. Nor does it mean that you should be the one doing it (because often, it can be delegated).
Wrapping it Up
If you want to stop the madness and ditch the overwhelm you feel because you’ve got too many balls in the air, it’s time to adopt the secrets highlighted herein. They’re a great first step to re-taking control over your life and living it more intentionally – and finally getting to a place of “balance” (that thing we keep talking about, but few seem to find).
Until next time…