“I have so much to do and I just can’t make myself do anything.” This is what I heard from my teenage daughter last week when I walked into her bedroom. Emma is a junior in high school and was trying to juggle three college placement tests, preparation for two choir auditions, and homework for four classes, all on her own and online due to Covid-19. I immediately put on my “productivity consultant hat” and asked her, “Have you made a list? Did you schedule everything into your bullet journal? Are you focusing on what has to be done this week?” She continued, “I’ve done all the things, mom, but nothing is working.”
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by a lengthy to-do list, and all of it feels of equal importance? Sometimes we can feel so much anxiety by looking at our many to-do’s that we don’t know where to start, and the methods and habits that have worked in the past just aren’t working now. Below I share a couple of quick tips to help you get through the most overwhelming of times.
Choose One Thing to Focus on Right Now
Continuing with the example of my daughter’s stressful situation, I asked her, “Why don’t you choose three things to focus on and forget about the rest? Just work to check those off your list one by one to feel a sense of accomplishment.” I knew that once she got those first three things done, she would feel a little better about moving to the next on her list. After hearing that she had also tried this “trick” and it still didn’t kick-start her motivation, I left her with, “Okay, turn on your relaxing music, chose one thing to do right now, and then we will talk again.”
During the most stressful times, you may need to pare back to the most basic productivity strategy – choose just one thing to focus on right now. Ask yourself, “What is the next action I need to take to move a project or task forward?” Do that and then find the next thing to focus on. Soon you should start to feel a sense of control over your to-do’s, your stress levels will decrease, and you can work to get a better handle on the rest of your list.
Choose Three Things to Focus On Today
Later that morning, Emma explained that she had been thinking about the “choose three things” method and wondered if it hadn’t worked in the past because she didn’t write her goals down – instead, she had just determined in her head what three tasks she would do. I told her I would check in with her via text for the next few days to remind her to write down her three goals and check on her progress. Here was the first day’s response:
Success! At least for that day. This extra act of writing down her goals added to the intentionality of the actions and was just enough to get her over her productivity hurdle. The next day’s text was answered with a list of her three goals for that day. Emma may not continue this habit every day moving forward. Instead, she will likely go back to her normal method of weekly planning in her bullet journal. But it was what she needed to get through the high stress levels she was encountering at that time.
When to Use This Simple Process for Increased Productivity
As discussed, using the process of choosing three goals each day is a great tool during times of high stress or feelings of extreme overwhelm. This is also a great process to use if you haven’t yet developed a weekly and/or daily planning habit. Begin with a brain dump of all of your to do’s. Get them off your mind and on paper, or in digital form. Prioritize them if you can. Then, each morning choose three goals to focus on that day.
- Each morning, choose three things you will accomplish today.
- Write them down. Consider sharing them with someone.
- Get to work!
Once you complete your three goals for the day, celebrate, and then choose the next 1-3 actions. Soon you will have more control and a better perspective of your to-do’s. When you are ready to move to the next level of weekly and daily planning, take a look at “What Should I Do Right Now?” for additional planning tips.
If you struggle with goal setting, prioritization, planning, or are just feeling overwhelmed with work and life, please reach out to me or schedule your free 30-minute Productivity Assessment. I would love to help you gain control and develop the habits that save you time, energy, and stress.
Have you ever read a book that changed your life? At the recommendation of several friends in the business world, I recently completed Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. Donald promises that after reading his book you will be able to “use the 7 elements of great storytelling to grow your business.” Before reading Building a Story Brand, I had never been excited about marketing. It does not come naturally to me, I am not good at it, and it is not fun for me….at least these have been my excuses for when I don’t put in the time and effort needed as a business owner.
The content of Building a Story Brand really struck a chord with me and provided me with a way to view “marketing” like I haven’t before, but this isn’t a book review. The truly eye-opening result of the book was that I was reminded of the importance of two things for any successful endeavor:
- A clear vision that resonates and
- a simple project plan.
While I had hired marketing experts in the past to assist me with specific pieces of my branding and marketing, I did not have an overriding plan that resonated with me. This book provided that for me. For someone who helps clients clarify their goals and develop customized productivity plans for a living, I’m embarrassed to admit it took this long to realize what I was missing!
Building a Plan for Productivity
What have you been procrastinating, or avoiding, in work or life? What projects have been slow-moving or “stuck” within your office or business? What reasons have you, or your team, used for not taking action? Could it be that you also need a clear, concise plan that resonates? Project plans not only provide the step-by-step tasks needed to reach your goals but can also help you “get unstuck” and motivate you and your team. (For more tips on tackling procrastination, check out “Reduce Procrastination with 3 Powerful Steps”.)
Parts of a Successful Project Plan
When creating or revising a plan, be sure to include the following important aspects:
Create a Vision for Success
What will the final result look like? How will success feel? What will you be able to do that you can’t do now? What drives you and your team towards this vision?
Determine Your Goals and Actions
Define the high-level goals that are needed to reach your end vision and put specific action steps behind them. Don’t make it too difficult at first – you can fine tune as you go.
Evaluate Your Resources
What human, technology, budgetary and other resources are needed to reach your goals? What do you have now and what additional resources are needed?
Schedule Your Actions
Once you have your actions and resources defined, you can determine a schedule for completion. Consider choosing an end-date and working backwards. Or, choose intermediate deadlines for the high-level goals and then schedule your action steps to meet those dates.
Celebrate and Maintain Your Success
Celebration is a great bridge between project completion and maintenance. You will also need to determine how you will maintain your success.
Consider Your Risks and Obstacles
For most projects or goals, it’s also important to consider and discuss any risks and obstacles you might encounter along the way and how they’ll be addressed.
Just Get Started
The most important thing is to get started, or “just do it” as Nike® would say. If you don’t have a complete, detailed vision or if you aren’t yet sure of the resources needed for each goal or task, that’s okay. You can start with a good framework and add to it – or even change direction if needed – as you go. Start small to gain momentum. Don’t waste another day before tackling that project, writing your book, or getting healthier. Whatever your end goal, just jot down your vision, goals and tasks and take action!
P.S. If plan development isn’t your thing, I’d love to help. I’ll listen to your needs, help you fine-tune your vision and goals, and document the action steps needed to reach your vision. I can also remain by your side to provide support and accountability as you walk through your customized plan. Schedule your free 30 minute productivity assessment to see if productivity coaching is right for you.
Clutter is delayed decisions – whether it be paper clutter, email clutter, mind clutter or any other type of clutter in your home or office. Piles start because you are postponing making a decision on an item…then another… then another… So how can we simplify the choices that we need to make each day?
Following are 5 tips to help simplify your decision-making and reduce your piles.
What could be better done, or used, by someone else? Choose those things that you love to do or love to look at and find someone else to take care of the rest. If you need help determining what to handle yourself and what to delegate, or donate, don’t be afraid to call in a professional or an unbiased friend to assist.
Try to step back and see yourself as others see you in your situation. This can serve as a reality check and open your eyes to things you have been avoiding. If you are having trouble with this exercise, find someone you trust and ask for his or her opinion — but be ready for the answers and keep an open mind.
Use a Timer
When a task seems overwhelming, or when you find yourself spending all day researching a decision on the internet or clearing out your email inbox, a timer is a wonderful tool. Set it for 10 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the task. Work diligently during this time to make the appropriate decision(s). The task will seem less overwhelming and take much less energy.
Have a System
Having the appropriate systems and tools in place is very important in simplifying your decision-making. For example, the ART System™ works wonderfully for addressing your paper and electronic “piles.” Every item should either be acted on (or delegated to someone else to act upon), filed away for future reference, or tossed. With effective tools in place that work for your needs and personality, these decisions become much simpler.
Let Go of Perfectionism
You might be surprised at how many of my clients are perfectionists. They say they are cluttered and disorganized because if something can’t be perfect, they don’t want to do it at all. Sound familiar? As a recovering perfectionist myself, I completely understand this feeling. But sometimes you need to determine that ‘good is good enough’ and move on. One way I have found to address this issue within my home is to hire a cleaning lady (see #1 – Delegate). If I clean my own home, I would spend far too much time on the picky details, while she is not only much more efficient at cleaning my home, but she knows when good is good enough.
Another tip for addressing perfectionism is to repeat to yourself a phrase I learned from a mentor, Barbara Hemphill. Barbara often says “Doing something is better than doing nothing at all.” If I didn’t believe and live by this phrase every day, you might not be reading this article right now. Is it perfect? No. Is it good enough. I hope so.
Many of us struggle at times with getting things done due to procrastination. There are many reasons that we might put something off for later; it is a task we don’t enjoy, it appears overwhelming, we aren’t prioritizing it, we don’t have the right knowledge or tools or we just don’t know where to start. Following are 3 tips to help move forward towards productive action.
1. Make better decisions. Much of our clutter, including the longer-than-necessary to-do list, is due to postponed decisions. In a prior article, I shared the File-Act-Toss™ process and the Magic 6™ tools needed to more easily make decisions. But even with the right tools and systems in place, there are times we just seem to be stuck. The task or project may not fit our current vision and goals, we may be waiting on someone else to move the project along or we may not be the right person for the job. Asking yourself “What would need to change in order for me to take action?” can provide powerful guidance for moving forward.
2. Use an action verb. When a task or project seems overwhelming or you just aren’t sure where to start, take it one step at a time. Determine what needs to happen next, using an action verb to state the task. For example, ‘Call Joan today,’ ‘Create a list of newsletter ideas,’ or ‘Write an outline for Chapter 1.’ Once that step is completed, determine the next step using an action verb and so on.
3. Eat that frog. To use the term made popular in David Allen’s book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time , Eat That Frog refers to attacking those tasks we have been putting off because it is something we just don’t like, or want, to do – i.e. the frogs. Often these tasks can have the largest impact on our work or life. Complete the frog first, before anything else. You are then able to more easily move through your day knowing the “biggest and worst” task has already been completed.
These are three very simple tasks that, when done regularly, can have a huge impact on the way that you live and work. I’d love to hear your success stories after putting them into practice. Send me an email or post a comment on our Facebook page.