How to survive an overloaded schedule, one day at a time.
If you’re not sure of what you’ve achieved at the end of the day, week, or month, but you’re feeling super busy, tired, and somehow always lost or stuck in too many thoughts at once, then this post may interest you.
We’ve all been in this situation at least once in our lives. Most of us work to achieve the goals of others, following the recipes for someone else’s food (ouch!? Sorry, but it is what it is).
Don’t get me wrong. It’s totally OK to be part of someone else’s dream, especially if you’re adding value and above all, fulfilling your own dreams at the same time. The problem begins when all the work doesn’t bring us anything other than meaningless loads to add to our luggage. Each day starts looking like the day before, and it can feel like an endless loop. At the end of the month, you don’t feel like you’ve achieved anything and you’ve just seen your endless to-do list grow and grow.
There is no magic plan to take ownership of your schedule. You can get tons of great ideas and advice, but you still may need to customize it according to your needs. It is not simple or easy, but it feels much better when you are proactive and it gets more effective with practice. So here are some tips on how you can at least start dealing with this overwhelming feeling one day at a time.
Write a to-do list
Write down all your pending tasks. Don’t just rely on your memory because it’s easy to avoid, forget and underestimate certain tasks. Write them down somewhere so you have something tangible showing just how many things are weighing on your mind.
Categorize tasks by “work,” “home/ family” and “personal”
This helps you visualize how balanced your activities are, which areas are overburdened, and which ones disregard, kind of like the Zig Ziglar Wheel of Life. Most of the time, we are much more aware of and committed to our work than our family, or even ourselves. You can also distribute your tasks on different action boards and switch between activities like a professional juggler. That approach may require more self-organized expertise so, put that idea on the backburner for now. The point here is certainly not to overwhelm you!
Assess the value of each task
We would need an entire post to go over the meaning and complexity of value. But here, I would like to focus on the value added by and for you.
Value is directly proportional to the impact that each task has. Ask yourself where that value is. It may impact only one area of your life, some, or all of them. Also, ask How it could impact the various areas. For instance, it may be positive at work but negative at home.
The amount of time each task consumes should also be considered for this complex formula, as should whether it’s critical for a bigger plan in progress or it's related to a personal need.
When talking about timing, we are talking about deadlines against effort. Effort commonly requires not only current, but also additional knowledge, and also a good amount of availability and self-commitment.
If it's part of a bigger plan, like a long-term goal, having a good understanding of the impact becomes key so that you are fully aware of the consequences of a delay or not finishing.
Personal needs are the most commonly ignored, as they seem to not represent any impact to anybody, right? But that isn’t healthy for you, not emotionally or professionally. If not you, who else is going to help you reach the next level? As Austin Keon said: these duties to yourself are “for the job you want, not the job you have.” They’re also for the life you want, so think twice next time you are valuing and under-rating these areas.
Prioritize the top five to 10 tasks
If you were thinking that the next step would be to rank all 200 tasks that you’ve come up with, you can breathe easy. You can, if you really want, but the most important is filtering for the five to ten most important tasks. Also, try to keep a good balance with these tasks so that you aren’t just satisfying one area (*cough* work). Remember: we are trying to survive one day at a time. Once you become an expert at this, you can stretch the number to where you feel comfortable.
Go for the biggest challenge first
The hardest tasks should go first. And by hardest I’m not only referring to complex or higher value tasks, I’m talking about things that you really need to convince yourself and muster up the energy to do. It may represent a personal challenge. It may be something that you don’t like to do, but simply have to, like me walking my dogs in 5°F weather in winter. Checking off those big, tedious, challenging, or repetitive tasks as “done,” gives you some relief. Once it’s over and done with, you can spend the rest of the day dealing with more exciting things guilt-free. Do not start with another task until you complete the tricky one. Try out an approach like: Unless I eat my vegetables, I don’t get dessert.
We all need breaks. Our brains require time off to store, link and come up with ideas. Our body also needs to relax from time to time, stretch or move to keep working properly. So do it. Procrastinate for a couple of minutes, especially if you’ve already achieved something. You deserve it. A couple of minutes, take the time of a song or two, a glass of water, a cup of tea, or just five minutes of blessed silence, then go back to focusing on your pending tasks. You may find you come back recharged, with fresh ideas and a better attitude.
The day is over. Did you make it through your entire list? If not, don't worry. You were working on your highest priority tasks so feel good because you delivered as much value as possible, to everyone, including yourself. Tomorrow, start this journey all over again. You can think of tasks, rank them by importance and also take into account what you achieved today.
Further reading: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy.