I am always doing way too many things at once. I often find myself reading several books at once, researching several things at a time – often of varying subjects, and multi-tasking all day long. If I’m watching tv, I’m also online. While I’m cooking I’ll be doing calf raises or wall pushups in between stirring. I never have less than 3 tabs open on my browser, and I’m currently signed up for 2 online courses (both voluntary) and working through one workbook. Then I have to add in required things like cleaning, working, exercising, grocery shopping and making sure the kids aren’t killing each other.
With a list like this, I sound like SuperWoman, right? Except that I’m not.
Because what happens when you put more on your plate than your mind can handle?
And what do you get done when your overwhelmed? Nothing. Or at least nothing of quality.
When I sit down to work, I start with a mental list of things in my head. One by one the tasks start coming, slowly at first, and then faster, until I have a jumble of things that need to be done and nowhere near enough time to do them all.
- I need to write a post.
- I need to finish my manifesto.
- I need to work on the courses I’m in.
- Which remind me I need to work on planning my own course.
- And oh, the workbook. I really need to work on it too.
- And on and on.
When I sit down with completely free time – nothing to cook, nothing that needs written immediately, nothing to clean – I’ll say to myself, “Ok, what now?” The list of thoughts then looks like:
- Free time! What game shall I play?
- Wait, I can’t play a game, I should really write another post, get ahead of schedule.
- But the manifesto isn’t complete.
- And I still have courses to finish.
- And I still have planning to do.
- Ugh, and I gotta make a grocery list for tomorrow.
- And I still have to…
The Overdoer’s Guide to Getting Things Done
1. Start with a list. This list should include everything you need to start, everything you need to finish, and everything in between. Work stuff. Family stuff. Personal stuff. It all goes on the list. So take your time with it. And every time you have the thought “But I really need to do ___”, just add it to the list.
2. Cull this list. You and I, both, know this list contains way more than you can feasibly do in a day or a week… maybe even a month, depending on what’s on your list. Now is the time to admit that to yourself. It will save you a lot of worry and stress later on. It’s time to thin the ranks. Items to really pay attention to:
- Items solely for the purpose of making people like you. This list should only contain things that are for, and that will benefit, you. Going out of your way in order to change the way someone thinks of you is not only time consuming, it’s time wasting.
- Excessive volunteering. Helping others is wonderful- but not when you’re overloaded. Save it for when you’ve gotten a handle on your current schedule. If you must include some volunteering, keep it to a minimum and don’t sign up for the biggest, most time consuming task available.
- Items that truly aren’t necessary. Signed up for yet another pointless class/webinar/subscription that you can already predict what they’re going to tell you? Cut them off now! Keep in mind that some “fun” is necessary. Just keep things proportional. An 80/20 ratio of work/fun is a good start. For you workaholics, 20% may sound like a lot of fun time, but it’s essential. It will help prevent burnout and overwhelm, and keep you happier. And as a bonus, happier people tend to do better work, faster.
3. Order your list. You should now have a list of items that are: important, beneficial to you, and necessary for the life that you desire. But to get the most out of your list, it should be in the right order.
- Start with the most urgent. This part is simple. Pick out the items with strict deadlines: work projects, kids birthdays, meetings, fundraisers – anything that you have to do, but don’t have flexibility in choosing a date. Write them in your calendar.
- Then move on to the most flexible.These will be the things that are important to you, but individually have no specific completion date. These are things like exercising, changing your eating habits, writing a chapter in your novel, writing a guestpost, making an appointment for your “yearly” health check up. Because of their flexible nature, these are the things that are always put off for “tomorrow”. Only tomorrow you put them off again. And again. And again. And then you look up a year later and all you have to show for most of them is an extra 10lbs, and an empty word file where your novel should have been.
- Set a date. These things don’t have deadlines, so give them one. If you know you can always come back to it later, it will never be on top of your priority list.
- Write it in your calendar. If you use an electronic calendar (your phone, google, etc), set reminders.
- Then finish everything else. Take a look at what’s left on your list. These will be things that might have a generalized deadline, but not quite set in stone. Things like cleaning your house or grocery shopping. These are things that haveto be done in the near future, but can be moved around if needed. You have two choices with these:
- Lock them in. You can always schedule these items, just like you did with the rest. If you like having your day planned ahead of time, this is probably the option for you. Want Saturday to be laundry day? You can do that. Or you can make Sunday, batch cooking day. And Wednesday can be dusting day. Tuesday is errand day. Whatever you decide – whatever is important for you.
- Or set up a waiting list. If you’re a go-with-the-flow type who likes to leave some things unplanned, this would be the option for you. Because these are things that have to be done frequently, you’re unlikely to push them back too far. You can put these on a list and stick them to your refrigerator and get to them as you have time. Have an hour between errands and picking up the kids? Perfect time to wash some dishes, vacuum, or make your grocery list.
4. Get things done. With all of your distractions and worries all neatly planned and scheduled, you can finally relax. You can work on one task with completely, without worrying about when you’ll get to the rest of them. Not only does this help lower your stress levels, it also allows you to focus on the task at hand, which means you’ll get it done quicker, with less chance of errors. And that alone will save you time. Now go on and get things done!