Stay on target with less overwhelm when you break it all down.
This fall has pulled me in a million different directions.
I have a new consulting client. Well, a client that I worked with several years ago. And has just re-engaged.
I am very enthusiastic about this project. This management team was one of my favorites to work with in recent years. They received a huge influx of cash. The company is definitely going places. And optimizing the company strategy is a fun and challenging way to use my brain.
So, this shiny new project has garnered a lot of my attention recently.
New projects with good people are just plain fun.
Part of me wants to work on this one project all day. Forget all the other stuff in my life. The tiny tasks that are either boring or confusing or not that rewarding. Why would I do something that doesn’t give me the dopamine hit of a shiny new project? Sometimes it’s hard to even remember.
But then I take a step back. I still have writing goals. And I am looking to not only continue what I’ve been doing, but figure out exactly how and where to expand.
Plus, I still have 2 kids and a husband and a dog and a house. And self-care, running and yoga and getting enough sleep. Those are all important to me too.
I know that I want to keep making progress in all those areas. Not everything can be a priority, but everything needs at least a small piece of my day.
When I think about it all and my heart starts to race. My mind gets completely overwhelmed. And my reflex is to either hide in the shiny new project, or do nothing at all. Because I don’t know which way to turn or what to do first.
But I have a much better system for tackling things than I used to. Especially on a day-by-day basis. A way to intentionally make time for each thing. Every day. So that I know with confidence that all the little pieces add up to big results over time. And I’m not running in circles.
I know that if I plan everything out. I can continue to make progress on everything that is important to me. I won’t get everything “done”. Not by a long shot. But I also won’t get so distracted by the fun new idea that everything else (including me) fall by the wayside.
Here’s what I do:
Make a List.
An oldie but a goodie. Not flashy, not novel. I make a list of everything I have to do. In a random order. Everything from ordering Halloween costumes for the kids to creating a valuation analysis for one of my client’s products.
All the tiny pieces that add up to the important things in your life.
The list is agnostic. It doesn’t care which things are “fun” and which things are “boring.” Everything gets included in the list.
The other important mindset about this list is that I don’t yet have to know when I’m doing everything. Or even group all the tasks together. The order is random. Because I don’t want to be perfectionist about my list. I don’t want to interrupt the flow of ideas. I want to get everything down.
A lot has been written and said about a to-do list. But I still stand by it as the most important first step to achieving your goals. Because when everything flies around in your head, the volume of tasks feel enormous. And without direction. On paper, the list is finite. And you can start to group things together. To see which tasks help keep your momentum going. And which need to get done but are not priorities.
And here’s the other thing. Making a to-do list rarely takes me more than a few minutes. Sometimes I will think of something later that I forgot. But its usually only one or two small things. Its never the urgent stuff. And its easy to add on to the list once you create it.
Schedule Exactly When To Do Everything
This takes some finesse.
I start with the non-negotiables. The client meeting. The school pickup. I plug those into my day. And then I figure out how much time remains. And I fill in the slots that I have.
I am pretty good at figuring out exactly how long certain things will take. I know that it can take me 2 hours to write a blog post. Maybe I’m supposed to be faster, or slower. But that’s how long it takes me. Your timing may vary.
So when I put things on my daily schedule, I make it specific. In 15 minute increments.
That way, I know exactly when I am doing everything, all day.
I make sure to schedule in buffer time. 30 minutes or more per day of time to use if the unexpected happens. Or, if I’m so close to finishing something that I can use the time to do so.
I also schedule in downtime. The schedule I use goes until 9:30pm. But I am a major morning person. So, my day starts at 5 or 5:30am. I always make sure I schedule time for lunch. And usually, to walk my dog. Breaks to recharge my mind in the middle of the day. But by 8:30pm I’m toast. So things like folding laundry go toward the end of the day (no brain use there at all). And after 8:30pm, I’m off the clock all together. Its time for TV or some other form of vegetation. Guilt-free. Because its intentional mindlessness.
Use a Timer
I have relied on a timer more and more these days. When I am deep in either a work project or a writing project, I lose all sense of time. I get enthusiastic and don’t want to stop. But I know that I need to shift to the next thing. If I want to continue to make progress on many fronts.
So, I set my timer.
Based upon the schedule I put together. I set it for how long I need, minus 5 minutes. I know I need those last 5 minutes to wrap up. Or to transition my brain. My day would be a runaway train without my timer’s Superman theme playing to let me know its time to go on to the next thing.
Accept That My Whole List Won’t Get Done In One Day
This is one of the hardest parts for me. I am a perfectionist. I want the perfect day. The one where I bake cookies with my kids. Deliver the killer client presentation. Go on a 10 mile run. And write 10,000 words. Anything short of that can feel like failure. And the idea of failure makes me avoid doing anything at all. But, that day does not exist and never will.
Instead, I accept that there is some stuff that will linger on the list. That will have to push out a day, or even a week. Sometimes its hard. Telling my kids that their Halloween costumes will have to wait tugs on my heartstrings. But in reality, we still have plenty of time. They will be fully outfitted by October 31.
So that is it. I use this system to break it all down. To schedule all the little things. To make sure my day makes progress on the big things. That each little thing builds intentionally to my bigger goals.
And then I don’t have to worry if I’m doing the right thing or letting something fall through the cracks. I made a plan. I know what to do.
All I have to do is execute.