Last time we talked about what happens when we become overwhelmed by our to-do lists and responsibilities. I also shared with you some methods I use when trying to pick up all the pieces again after one of these so-called mental upheavals.
So Why Do We Experience Moments of Complete Overwhelm?
For my own purposes, I really needed to take a look at this and figure it out. I can handle a lot of stress and a lot of pressure from deadlines, but when I experience one of these mental upheavals, everything just crumbles and I’m brought to my knees. I’m sure I’m not the only one that experiences this from time to time. It’s almost as if it’s some kind of built-in pressure release valve that forces us to take a break and to recenter.
What I discovered in myself, and I believe this to be true for others as well, is that there are three key reasons I experience these moments of complete overwhelm.
There is, of course, still the insane amount of pressure we put on ourselves and each other and the sheer number of projects and tasks we’re all expected to juggle simultaneously. For example, when was the last time you saw a resume or a job description that didn’t state “good at multitasking.” Human nature is actually not designed for multitasking, yet we do it all day long and it’s pretty much a requirement no matter where you go.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or you’re employed somewhere, life is stressful and often demanding. But what about other factors that more directly relate to managing a workload and responsibilities?
3 Key Reasons We Fail to Get Things Done
Aside from all of the pressures of society and our day-to-day lives, I narrowed it down to a few key reasons that we experience these moments of complete overwhelm. Here is what I discovered:
- Poor organization
- No accountability
- Lack of focus
You’re probably not shocked by any of them. You likely also know in which of the three areas you are the weakest. Or perhaps you could use help in all three of these areas. Whatever the case, there is hope.
Let’s start by taking a more detailed look at each of them starting with poor organization.
If you often find yourself overwhelmed by everything on your plate, it’s very possible that your method for staying organized really isn’t working for you. What kind of system do you use? Are you old-school and prefer the paper and pen method? Or are you fully emersed in the digital era with an app or device for keeping track of everything? Then again you may be someone that lacks an organizational system altogether.
No matter what method you use, (or don’t use) there is never a bad time to take a look at your system and make some adjustments.
To stay organized, I use a combination of tools.
- A Whiteboard – I find this a great spot for jotting down ideas as they come to me. Whiteboards are also great for brainstorming or crunching numbers. I use this like a holding-tank for tasks or projects that are further down the line and have yet to be slotted into my schedule.
- A Daily Planner – I’m old-school. Sometimes I just want to look at what is on my plate for the day/week/month without having to open up an application. I tend to review my planner and schedule once at the beginning of the week and then briefly each night to make any necessary changes. This helps me to know what I’m working on the next day.
<A Digital Task Manager – I have used several digital task managers, but my current one is Trello. Trello allows you to use their services at a basic level, for free. Within it, I create cards, and each card is a task. I can add due dates, add members to the card, write notes on them, etc. You then can also create columns for organizing the cards. I have set up five columns as follows: Not Yet Scheduled, Next Week, This Week, Active, and Done. The column names are probably fairly self-explanatory.
- A Notebook – For this, I use paper when I need a place to just jot things down but don’t necessarily need to reference the thoughts again. I use Microsoft’s OneNote program for storing things that I’d like as long-term reference.
Find a system that fits with all of your quirks. This will help ensure that you use it. If you like pen and paper, then develop a system that makes use of that. If you are a digital nerd, that lives through devices, then, by all means, use that. It’s your system and can be whatever you want. Just keep tweaking it until you find a method for organizing that works and that is sustainable.
Another reason we often fail to get stuff done is that we just don’t have anyone to hold us accountable.
Unfortunately, not all of us are equipped with the necessary drive, motivation, and diligence to be our own bosses. Sometimes we need pressure from someone else. When someone else sets expectations, it gives us a goal that feels more solid than one we put there ourselves.
If you have a manager, ask them to help you manage your workload and pro-actively set up weekly touch-base meetings with him or her. Use the meetings to review your workload as well as the progress you’ve made since your last meeting. I used to have a quick meeting with my manager every Monday morning and then again on Thursday’s after lunch. Monday morning’s I would basically share my workload for the week. And then on Thursday, I’d share my progress and he would have time to help me anywhere I might be stuck or falling behind.
If you don’t have a manager, find a friend, or family member that would be willing to meet with you once a week. It could be over coffee or lunch or a few minutes on the phone in the evening.
If you use a tool like Trello, you could share your Trello Board(s) with whoever is helping to hold you accountable.
Aside from my husband that watches my Trello board, I also meet with a group of colleagues every Wednesday morning via conference call. Together we share the things we have on our plates as well as any hurdles or hiccups we have encountered. Most often, someone in the group has either been through the same thing or can offer suggestions or a solution to whatever we’re facing.
Peer support is invaluable if you can get it.
Lack of Focus
The third and final key area that causes us to fail to get stuff done, is lack of focus. This is my biggest area that still needs work. I see shiny things all over the place. I tend to lose focus if I don’t take extra effort to plan and organize my day.
I know that I like variety, so it’s important for me to find ways to work that into my routine and daily schedule.
For example, after I figure out my priorities, I select one longer task for the day and one or two smaller tasks that I can crank out pretty quickly. This helps me to focus on one thing at a time but also gives me variety for the day.
Focus on One Project at a Time
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to just focus on one large project at a time until it’s done. I get why this is important but it doesn’t always seem as easy as that. I essentially run three businesses right now. Logically, my tendency is to rotate through projects for all of them just trying to get stuff done.
As it stands now, I have three larger projects started, that all need to be finished. Nothing is getting done. And while those projects remain unfinished, they’re also not generating any revenue. Had I just stuck with one, finished it and launched it, I could be getting paid to create the other projects, so to speak.
Do you see how it makes more sense to stay focused on one thing vs. splitting your focus across multiple things? This is a work in progress for me. I know what I need to do, I just struggle from time to time at following through with it.
But don’t do as I do in this case. Try to do better than I do and focus on one project at a time until it’s done.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect
One of my business coaches from the past used to always say, “Take massive imperfect action.” In other words, don’t worry about getting it perfect, just get it done and out there. You can perfect it over time.
Don’t waste precious time on being perfect. If the product is good, it will sell. If it’s perfect, no one will notice that it was except for you.
Limit Your Time to Complete a Task
This goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. Remember the law of diminishing returns? An hour or two spent on a single task might make sense, but if you find yourself spending four or five hours on the same task, it’s time to re-evaluate how much time is actually needed.
A helpful tip when determining how much time is long enough is to estimate how much time you think a particular task should take before you even start. Once you have a realistic idea of the time involved, schedule it on your calendar. Next, add another buffer of time right after that task equal to 30% of the time you originally estimated.
If you get it done with the task in less time than you estimated, that’s great. But if you’re still working when the estimated time expires, then you have the buffer time to wrap things up. If you extend beyond that as well, it’s time to look at what may have caused that to happen so that you can make adjustments for next time if applicable.
According to Gloria Mark, who studied digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine, it takes an average of about 25 minutes (or 23 minutes and 15 seconds, to be exact) to return to the original task after an interruption. That doesn’t even take into effect the 20 minutes lost in trying to get your mind up to speed and focused on the new topic that interrupted you in the first place. That’s a lot of lost time during the day for every interruption.
While you’re working, put away devices. Close your email. Disable notifications unless you need to be reminded of meetings. Do whatever it takes to give yourself some uninterrupted time to work and focus.
If you have other methods that you’d like to share regarding how you manage your time each day, I’d love to hear about them.