As entrepreneurs who hopefully have lives, too, (right!?) getting more done in less time is kinda the Holy Grail. And with the holiday season nipping at our heels, family time and holiday commitments will be competing for more of your time. Does the very thought of that stress you out? Fear not, for with a few tips you can not only get more done, but avoid overwhelm to boot.
Here is a three-part system to assess where you might feel overwhelmed, take focused action on your to-do list, and set yourself up for success.
It all starts with asking the right questions.
First and foremost, what is overwhelm? Believe it or not, overwhelm has very little to do with time or time management. Rather, it has to do with our relationship to truth and what’s really going on inside us.
Overwhelm doesn’t just show up one day like a package from the post office. It builds, it comes from somewhere, like our need for control (not delegating), our disease to please (not saying no) or a sense of obligation (not setting boundaries).
Once we understand what overwhelm really is, it loses its power and we can start taking it apart and taking action!
Step 1: Assess
Take a good look at what the symptoms and signs of overwhelm are for you. This will be different for everyone, but some examples might be:
– feeling like there’s never enough time
– even when you accomplish something, the next thing is waiting for you
– no rest, no enjoying yourself because of a feeling that something needs to be done
– feel guilty doing one thing because you’re not doing another
Next, look at how you’re really spending your time. It might surprise you that an hour has gone by while you were on Pinterest to just check one thing. This goes beyond time management; what is motivating you to do those things? What are you avoiding doing?
Take one day and track it with a pen and paper or an app on your phone. Write down EVERYTHING you do. What’s measured is improved, so be specific. Getting up to get a glass of water, taking a phone call, doing a load of laundry, answering emails. Every task and how much time you spend on it. (This can lead to an “oh hell no!” kind of moment when you’re faced with the reality of your day.)
Next, make a list of:
- What you’re avoiding and why.
- What are the things hanging over your head?
- What things from that list really need to be done by you and what you can delegate, set aside for now, or remove entirely?
Just this act of assessment can bring you back to center when you see what really needs to be done and what can go.
Step 2: Act
Nothing happens without action. But unfocused action is just a waste of your precious time. Try one of these methods to help you focus.
The 15-Minute Method.
This method is particularly helpful if there’s a project that seems so daunting or so sprawling that you don’t even know where to begin. A popular one is “organize my office.”
It doesn’t matter what is on your list, or how much is on your list. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start. Start with 15 minutes. At the end of those 15 minutes, if you feel like continuing to work on that project, go ahead.
The Power Day.
I love power days. I’ve started scheduling at least one power day a quarter where I hole up in a hotel, order room service and just GO. No distractions, no phone, no email. I spend the evening before brainstorming and listing the top eight projects that I want to move forward or complete, and I make my schedule for the following day.
More frequently, I do power days in my home office. The idea here is to alternate tasks among projects in one hour chunks. You will have to experiment and see what works best for you.
Now, this is not for that project that requires deep focus, concentration or extended periods of creativity. But when you have a lot on your plate and you feel like they all need some attention, this is great!
Be mindful of the transition between hours and use that time for you. Use the time for a five or ten-minute break. Refill your water bottle; use the facilities; jog in place; have a snack.
There are both tangible and intangible benefits to a power day. At the end of the day, you not only feel like you accomplished something, you actually did. It doesn’t matter if the projects were finished or not. You made progress on eight projects! Wow!
Something happens when we focus on one task; the others fade into the background for those 60 glorious minutes and our mind is freed up to work on what is before us. Subconsciously we know that the other projects will also be worked on, so the task master in our head is satisfied.
The Power Hour.
This is like the Power Day, but in shorter bursts. A Power Hour is perfect for routine or shorter tasks like returning calls, checking emails, or making sales call. Things that seem to build up but really don’t take that much time.
Set your phone on Do Not Disturb. Close your email window. Close your door (even put a sign on it that say “Power Hour”); tell your family or your coworkers not to bug you. Work in ten to 15-minute increments. Use a timer and when the timer stops, you stop. If you need a bit longer, try the Pomodoro Keeper app—I use it to break up hours into two 25-minute segments plus two 5-minute breaks. Helps to keep me on task!
Step 3: Amplify
No matter which action method you choose to get more done, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.
Have a buddy or an accountability partner. If you’re in a business group or even if you just know a fellow entrepreneur, having someone you check in with each week can make a huge difference in your productivity. No one wants to fess up that they got nothing done! If you’re doing a Power Day, check in with your buddy at the top of every hour to stay on track and stay motivated.
Avoid “Cinderella Syndrome.” No matter how much you get done, there will always be more to do. Be kind with yourself. Know when to step away and come back later.
I have certainly fallen into what I call “Cinderella Syndrome”: If I can just get [insert project] done, then I can go [insert fun social activity]. It won’t take long. It’ll be fine. Suddenly I’ll find that hours pass and the project isn’t done and it’s bedtime, not fun time.
Unless it’s a vital client deadline, go have fun with your family and friends! Work will still be there when you get back.
Keep distractions to a specific time period. It’s OK to check Facebook or to surf the Internet. Really, it is. But like my dad always said, “all thing in moderation.” Use a timer or a focus app and use a portion of time for mindless web stuff. Then come back to work.
No matter what, end your work day with celebration and gratitude. Celebrate that you moved things forward! Give yourself an inner “attaboy!” or “attagirl!” Feel gratitude for the opportunity to contribute your gifts and talents to the world.
If you’d like to dive deeper on this topic, my POPS system has 4 Steps to Overcome Overwhelm. I developed this system over the years and finally wrote it all down when my friends asked me if I ever slept.
See, I was working as an attorney for 50+ hours a week, on the board of two non-profits, taking night courses, managing two households and still baking holiday cookies and throwing parties and sending birthday gifts. I realized I had a system that worked. Click the graphic below to download it instantly. It’s free. You can thank me later.
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