Are you feeling overwhelmed? Is your inbox overflowing and your to-do list blowing out? Is your attention scattered and are tasks taking longer to complete? Perhaps you’re caught in a downward cycle of frustration and distraction that is eroding your time, energy, focus and wellbeing!
Reclaiming our sense of control and enjoying the motivation that comes from getting important things done can be as simple as planning a daily schedule and sticking to it. But simple things aren’t always easy, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. Here are my top tips for combatting overwhelm and going from languishing to flourishing.
1. Prioritise sleep
Get to bed earlier. Even if you are a night owl, even if you’ve work to catch-up on, even if there are chores that need dealing with, even if… Turn off the TV and all other devices, and tuck yourself into bed. Most things are easier after a good night’s sleep. And if by chance, you’re recovering from a virus, getting more than 8 hours sleep a night will support your immune system.
2. Plan your day
At the end of the day (optimally well before you go to bed) review your to-do list and scan your inbox. List three important items to tackle tomorrow. No matter how many things you may need to do, at this point select just three. Write your three top priorities on a Post-it note. Stick the Post-it note on your keyboard or laptop, so it is the first thing you see when you arrive at your desk.
Estimate how long it will take to complete each of your three priority tasks. Then allocate time in your calendar (Timebox) to get them done. Mark these calendar appointments as priority and do not let people book meetings at these times. I like to categorise my Timeboxed work with a light green colour. Green for go, green for growth, green for vitality and green for frog. 😊
Schedule time first up in the morning to complete at least one of your priorities and ‘Eat That Frog’.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s especially important to breakdown your priority tasks into small chunks. Optimally chunks that you can complete in 45 minutes or less. Leave white space in your calendar, so you have buffers of time between your Timeboxed activities and meetings.
Create traction for a few days by scheduling just three priorities. Once you’re back on top of your game you can optimise your day by scheduling more.
When planning your day, schedule time for a walk outside. Half an hour, or longer if manageable. Ideally at lunchtime or later in the afternoon. As much as I’m a fan of layering walking with listening to a podcast, or powering through phone calls, whilst you’re feeling overwhelmed, reduce stimulation. Simply walk and let your mind wander. Prioritise recovery. Walking supports your productivity and your health.
4. Stick to your plan
You’ve had a good sleep, you are at your desk, you know the three top things you need to do today, you know exactly when you are going to do them, and you even know when you are heading outside for a relaxing walk. It is vital that you now stick to your plan. Grab your coffee and get to work. No ifs or buts; follow your plan.
Sticking to your plan is an essential element in rebuilding your mojo. Yes, it can feel boring. Your plan will be explicit: I’m doing task A for X minutes, starting Y time, and then I am doing task B for X minutes, starting at Z time, etc. Boring as it may be, this schedule control reduces stress and hones your focus. Don’t discount the simplicity of this approach. In addition to reducing stress, planning your day and sticking to your plan, builds confidence, discipline and satisfaction.
5. Single-task without distractions
When we are feeling under-par it’s even harder to resist temptations and distractions. Author and biologist John Medina explains the related neuroscience in his book Brain Rules for Work. The more out of control we feel, the more we are likely to experience negative stress. Negative stress cripples the executive function area of the brain. We use the executive function area of the brain in activities such as planning, focusing, refocusing and impulse control.
Set your workspace up for success. When you are working on your three priorities, go offline. Keep out of your inbox and instant messages and put your phone on silent, out of sight and out of reach. Do one thing at a time. Set a timer and take note of how long it takes to complete each of your three priority tasks. The act of timing your work, supports focus and discipline and provides you with useful data.
Once you’ve traction with your priority activities, then deal with email and instant messages. Systematically respond to one message at a time. Remember to delete (or file) messages that don’t need your attention. Creating order in your inbox will also reduce stress and help you to feel more in control.
6. Acknowledge your progress
Done! Put a very large tick next to the priority tasks you’ve completed. Acknowledge your self-discipline and the fact that you executed your plan. If things didn’t go to plan, be kind to yourself – things happen and tomorrow is a new day.
Now repeat the process. Before finishing work for the day, plan for tomorrow. If you’ve been feeling under-par and have been languishing for some time, build slowly. Plan just three priorities a day until you’re feeling stronger. Once you’ve extra time, energy and focus, you’ll naturally power through more from your to-do list.
In summary, plan your day and stick to your plan!
Thank you for reading and sharing this post. I trust it helps you to reclaim your sense of control, feel on top of your game, and enjoy the motivation that comes from getting important things done.
Keen for more insights? Checkout iMastery’s online training Better Ways of Working.
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