“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe”
Wise words from Mr Abraham Lincoln. Preparation is, of course, a key to success.
But in this example, Mr Lincoln only had one task to worry about. What a luxury that would be. Imagine one tree and six whole hours! And Abe didn’t even have to worry about how much email he’d have to plough through once he’d finished his lumberjack duties.
When’s the last time you had one thing to do? Most likely, there are days when you barely take a breath before more work comes cascading towards you. Everyone seems to be demanding something from you.
And why is it when you need to be highly productive you end up flipping from one thing to another and finishing nothing. You’re busy – oh boy, are you busy – but it feels like you’re not getting anything done.
You start to feel overwhelmed.
And Overwhelm Can Be Crippling
You struggle to think straight. Your thoughts are like ping pong balls bouncing around your head. Your focus seems to last a few minutes on that ‘must do’ task before the next ‘don’t forget to……’ thought jumps front of mind. And before you know it, your focus has shifted and you’re working on something completely different.
And it’s not like you don’t know how to be productive.
· You’ve prioritised your list into ‘Urgent and Important’ tasks but it still makes your toes curl
· You know multi-tasking is not the best approach, but you don’t know how else to get through the list
· You’re struggling to deal with distractions – both from other people and also that irritating voice in your head
· Your team are as overwhelmed as you are and you don’t know how best to support them
But when productivity goes head to head with overwhelm, overwhelm nearly always wins.
How To Stay Productive When You Feel So Overwhelmed
That feeling of overwhelm kicks in when we feel like we don’t have control.
So the key is not to focus on how much work there is to do. Or how little time there is to do it. Your focus should be on how to have control in your day.
Prepare and Protect
Abraham Lincoln was right about preparation. Overwhelm will annihilate you if you don’t have a plan. This is the easy part. And many of you, with the best intentions, will already start the day with some kind of plan. At a high level, it may look a bit like this
1. Think about what you need to get done today.
2. Assess the time you have available (think about moving less important meetings/activities if you can)
3. Block that time in your calendar for the tasks you need to do
4. Be realistic about what you can achieve
5. List down the tasks you want complete by the end of day
Protect That Time Like A Mama Bear
So you’re feeling good. You have a clear plan for the day but then by 9.29am, incoming strikes, and your plan is forgotten. Until you get to the end of the day and that important task still needs finishing.
Now, there are days when emergencies happen that should have priority over what’s on your to do list. But they don’t occur every day, do they? Think back to what has pulled you away from your plans over the last week. Was all that work important enough to have distracted you from what you wanted to achieve?
Dropping everything to work on ‘urgent’ tasks thrust upon you may mean you are clearing someone else’s to do list instead of your own.
So taking control is a two part process. You need to prepare what you want to achieve that day and ring fence the time to do it. And then you need to protect that time as a priority. Guard it well. Imagine that time block with barbed wire around it, being circled by angry wolves. To unlock that time, you or someone else needs to face that gauntlet.
It’s easy to think ‘ah well, I’ll do that task some other time’. But when might that time be? When you’re tired at the end of a long day when the office is finally quiet? At home when you’d rather be unwinding in front of Netflix? In a last minute panic, cramming two hours of work into snatched minutes throughout the day.
Best use of your time? No. Best quality work delivered? Probably not.
Easier Said Than Done?
Of course. It takes focus on the tasks that are important and courage to say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ to work not on your plan. It takes commitment to focus on one thing and ignore those internal and external voices trying to get your attention.
So start small. Even if you can just grab 60 minutes a day to work on important stuff, you will notice the difference.
Need More Help?
If you’re reading this and thinking that’s all very well but…
- what happens when it’s your boss, or even their boss who are causing the overwhelm?
- how can I control those internal voices distracting me all the time?
- what if everything on my list is a priority?
- what will people think of me if I start pushing back?
I can help with all that.
I’m running a Free 7 Day ‘Beat the Overwhelm’ programme where you’ll get answers to all those questions and more. You’ll need 15 minutes a day for 7 days. And I’ll help you move from feeling overwhelmed to feeling in control. You’ll start to have those days again when you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Wouldn’t that feel good!
How does it work?
Day 1 of the programme is always on a Friday so you can get ahead of the game before Monday morning comes around. From Friday onwards, I’ll email you an action to complete every day for seven days. I’ll walk you through a simple system with some tools and techniques to conquer overwhelm and deliver results
The content will be in video and pdf format so you can consume it in whatever way suits you best. And it’ll be no longer than 15 minutes each day – because you’re busy, I get it!
And it’s completely free.
Come join me – you’ll get your first email next Friday to prepare you for the week ahead