I don’t know about you but feeling overwhelmed is like the bane of my existence. It seems like there are always a million things to do and never enough time to do them. Not only that, but often I don’t even know where to start. I become so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of my mental to-do list, that I often become paralyzed. So how do we stop feeling overwhelmed. How do we kick that feeling to the curb so we can finally cross stuff off our to-do lists? All those to-do list items are swirling in our heads without any action plan. An action plan will free up that mental drain. Here are the secret seven steps to jumpstarting your productivity.
STEP ONE: MAKE AN UNFILTERED “BRAIN DUMP”
Find a notepad, use an app, your planner or sign up for my newsletter and get the password for my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY. Do whatever will work best for you. I’m a big fan of a good old fashioned pen and paper. There is something cathartic about seeing it on paper and being able to cross it off my list. Start writing: Write every single thing that you need/want to get done.
SOME IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED:
- Household tasks and chores
- Appointments to make
- Things to plan
- Purchases to make
- Personal goals
- Phone calls to make
- Projects you have in mind
- Everything and anything that comes to mind
Give yourself 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted time. Set a timer if you have to. The goal here is to externalize that mental clutter. Once you write it down somewhere, you are freeing up mental space and energy.
DO IT RIGHT NOW!
Yes-pause reading this article and go DO IT! Did you do it? Don’t you feel lighter? Like somehow the fact of writing all that stuff down has released the mental drain? Yes I know, you still have to actually do the stuff, but at least you don’t have to keep it all in your head and you have a way to keep track of it.
STEP 2: SORT YOUR LIST
Now that you have your list you can group similar tasks together. I like to see things in an organized manner. And rewriting my tasks under categories, helps me sort through them further.So I start a new list with the subheadings of different categories. (ex. phone calls to make, Organizing projects, things to buy).Some people suggest using a symbol for each category instead of rewriting. Ex: you assign a star to all phone calls to make. Then on your brain dump list, you put a star next to each phone call to make. You choose a different symbol for each category and proceed this way.
STEP 3: REMOVE, DELEGATE, AUTOMATE
After completing the previous steps, take a look at your list again. Are there things you can cross off for good? Things that don’t matter so much or that you are willing to postpone to a later date?Go ahead cross them off or put them in brackets if it’s something you want to focus on later.
Now see if there is anything on there you can delegate to someone else: a spouse, family member or hire someone. Go ahead, delegate! You don’t have to do everything yourself. The time and energy you will save will be more than worth it even if you have to spend some money. I read a recent study, where families were given money to spend in ways that would buy them more time (ex. hire a cleaning lady, a meal service, ordering take out, etc). The control group was given the money but not told anything about how to spend it.The results? Families that “bought more time” were happier and less stressed than the control group. Isn’t that interesting? How would you feel if you bought more time? Sometimes we need to know when to outsource to save ourselves time, money and headaches.
Certain items on our to do lists are things that need to happen regularly. Think bill paying, groceries and laundry among many others .What are those things on you list that you can automate? An easy example is bill paying. You can automate bill payments and transfers with online banking. Schedule regular household tasks so that they always happen on the same day/time every week. (Yeah I know, ugh a schedule) But trust me a schedule can also buy you more time.
STEP 4: GET STARTED
“the best way to get things done, is to simply begin”Look at your list and choose 3-5 easy things to do. (Don’t start with any major projects or goals). Quick and easy is the goal here. Now go do them or decide when you will do these tasks and then do them. Don’t worry about the other things, you will get there. You are waking up your productivity and conquering overwhelm muscles here. Once you start, you will feel the weight of mental and energy drain lift. Go ahead, check those things off your list!
Now go ahead, reward yourself for a job well done. You’ve initiated movement and that’s the big first step. You started your kicking overwhelm to the curb snowball. When you complete 3-5 more easy enough tasks, you will have initiated the snowball effect, building momentum as you go.
STEP 5: CHOOSE YOUR FOCUS
It’s so easy to want to multitask and do several things at the same time. The truth is although we may think we are getting more done, it actually slows us down. When you switch tasks, your brain has to shift gears and then rebuild momentum. The end result is things actually take more time to get done. Doesn’t make much sense does it? And yet we still do it. Stop the madness I say! You have now gotten 6-10 items completed from your to-do list. You have freed up some of that mental energy to now be able to focus on what should come next. You don’t have to prioritize your whole list, just choose the next 3-5 most important things you want to do. Decide when you will do them, and then do them. If it’s a big project, you will not likely complete the whole task in one time block and that’s okay. Create subtasks and focus on them one by one, and slowly but surely you will complete that big project. Think about that for a minute. How would it feel to you to finally complete that monumentous task or project you’ve had in your head for the longest time?
STEP 6: BREAK DOWN TASKS FOR BIGGER PROJECTS
The bigger the project, the greater it’s potential for us to feel overwhelmed. So write down smaller concrete steps for each big project. Here’s an example from my own to-do list.
- Clean, organize and setup playroom
On its own that is no small task so I broke it down into manageable steps.
- sort toys
- organize toys
- paint room
- plan sections
- find and buy/make needed storage solutions
Break it down even further if you need to.Using the example above “sort toys” became
- make piles: trash, donate, sell, put away for rotation
- Post items to sell
- Bring donations to goodwill
- Put stuff in the trash immediately
- Decide where to store rotation toys.
STEP 7: BE REALISTIC AND LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Haha, this particular point is still a huge challenge for me. I want it all done and I want it all done yesterday. But by setting high and unrealistic expectations, I am perpetuating the overwhelming feelings. It is IMPOSSIBLE to get everything on the do-list done all at once. And if I try, it usually leaves me feeling burnt out. And then the productivity moves to a snail’s pace or to a grinding halt. There will ALWAYS be things to do. Even as we complete tasks and check off items on our list, we will be adding new things. That’s the nature of life and thank goodness. Those are the things that will keep us growing and moving forward. But it doesn’t all have to get done at once. And that is OKAY! You have a plan now, so you don’t need to worry about EVERYTHING. Remember and follow the steps to conquer the overwhelm.
- do a brain dump
- sort brain dump into categories
- Get started- Choose and do 3-5 tasks, repeat
- Choose your focus
- Break down larger projects into smaller tasks
- Be realistic and lower your expectations.
This will always be an ongoing process. Using it will help you feel more in control and less like you are drowning in your mental to-do list. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave me a comment or question. Let me know how this helped, or what else you need help with.