I often experience having too much to do, despite continuously revising my priorities and being conscious of my investment of time.
Feeling overwhelmed and juggling reflects a rich life – typically with loved ones who depend on you. It is a privileged position, but in our always-on world, we need to manage various competing demands on our attention to be well.
So here are my top tips to avoid the feeling of overwhelm while making progress towards important goals.
1. Start less, Finish more.
This idea might sound counter-intuitive but bear with me. Most of us say yes too often. We end up with too many concurrent projects, commitments or goals. Even today, I realised that I have over-committed. I went outside and made a list of my projects. I need to decide what must be dropped or put on hold for the next few months. Flow is all about one thing at a time.
P.S. Guitar has been on my list for months but not yet prioritised.
Bottom line? Without being too prescriptive, I would advise any more than five Big Rocks across work, life, personal, and health is too much.
Each week, choose your ‘Top 4 and no more’ and focus on those.
If struggling to drop projects, ask yourself what would be the impact if this were not done?
2. Differentiate between Big Rocks, Filler and Routine.
Our time is consumed by three different types of activities:
- Big Rocks
Big Rocks are either:
(a) Major goals with a specific start and end date which require daily effort outside of routines, e.g. writing a book
(b) New habits you are trying to build until they become routine or second nature, e.g. getting fit (as opposed to staying fit)
Ideally, Big Rocks are motivating and enjoyable – but are not always!
Routine (or business-as-usual) are just the daily life tasks that take up time, are non-negotiable and done daily.
Then there is Filler. These are outside the Top 5. You may still
work on them, but only on a best-effort basis. Keep expectations low if you start them at all. If you find yourself disappointed each week, then consider dropping them.
Sometimes saying no is more of a relief than a half-hearted yes.
Right now – write down ALL the stuff you have going on and classify it as Big Rock or Routine or Filler and estimate the number of hours you need to spend each week.
3. Define your ideal week – and test it
You already have an idea of how you would like the week to go. But you can be much more specific. I use this MAGICAL weekly planner to confirm whether my goals are achievable given my time capacity.
How do we know if we’ve had a good week if we don’t define one?
4. Give Goals Time and Space to Live (with Rituals)
We often commit to end goals without thinking about the process and time goals we need to set every day for it to live. If you have not allocated a specific time, place and routine steps to the process, that goal remains an idea.
For example, say my end goal is to write a book. Then my process goal is to write every day. It is more effective to practise writing 200 words per day than 1,000 words once per week. Because what you are practising is sticking to the routine. Better writing – and the book – will follow naturally.
5. Plan every week and then reflect.
If you plan each week ahead of time, you will become much more aware of where you invest your time – and where you waste it. You will also become much more respectful of your time and better at setting boundaries that enable your Top 5 Big Rocks the time, space and respect you believe they deserve.
Getting up earlier and trying to ‘create’ more time may help, but only if you think you sleep too much. If you do a time audit and observe time you spend on activities not of value to you, that will free up time.
But… regardless of our time capacity, we might always feel there is not enough if we cannot decide what is most important.
So prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. And accept that everything is a trade-off.
There is a dangerous myth circulating that we can have it all. This belief adds stress to our lives. We can have what we value most once we decide what those are.
There are modules such as Productivity and Time management at The Wellbeing Academy – but only IF you want to add some micro-learning to your Top 4!
James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing, performance and productivity programmes to individuals and corporates.
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