I am a type A personality. By default, I look at what is wrong, what needs to be fixed, rather than what is right. I look at remains to be done, rather than what I have accomplished. If something breaks, I can’t rest until I fix it.
Living like this is a recipe for misery. There is always something “wrong.” There will forever be something else to do. If we choose to focus on those things, our minds will always have something to ruminate on, and we will see the world as broken and incomplete. I have to find a way to avoid overwhelm, that feeling that you get when there are more things to do than hours in a day, or a month, to get done.
Currently, I am contracting for a part-time job, running my legacy company of the last 17 years, and I’m starting two new businesses. I just filed for an LLC for one of the new companies. I have just built a website. There is always something more to be done. I have a partner who is full of ideas. Our to-do list grows faster than we can check things off of it.
I have found myself feeling tired and frustrated at the end of the day because I don’t feel like I am accomplishing enough. Sometimes, it feels like I’m not accomplishing anything at all. I’m going to be in this transition period for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to feel this way. So, I’ve come up with some practices to help.
The first thing I have to do is accept I am only human. There are on twenty-four hours in a day. I’m only awake for about seventeen of them, and I can only be productive for a subset of those. I need to set realistic expectations on what can be accomplished in a day, a week, a month. Some of my to-dos are going to be on my list for quite a while.
Second, I need to prioritize. When I wake up, I have to figure out what is the most urgent and important thing to get done today. There are four categories of tasks- urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent and important, and not urgent and not important. Thinking of a job as being in one of these four categories helps you sort your to-do list. If it’s urgent and important, move it to the top. If it’s not urgent and important, you can put it off, but only for so long. If it is not urgent and not important- don’t do it. If it’s urgent and not-important, maybe by skipping it, it’ll just go away.
Giving Myself Credit
Third, I need to give myself credit for what I accomplish. There are routine tasks that don’t seem to accomplish much. And I often don’t give myself credit for doing those.
For example, yesterday, my email integration just suddenly stopped working. I spent hours with support with two different companies. I was frustrated. When six o’clock rolled around, and I had to leave the problem (unresolved) to make dinner, I felt like I had wasted half of my day. The reality is that it is an urgent and important task that wasn’t on my to-do list at the beginning of the day. But, those were well spent hours because I need to fix the problem. I went to sleep last night knowing I would have to pick it up again this morning. However, I slept well, knowing I had done all I could do for that day.
A way to make sure you give yourself credit for what you accomplish is to keep a task list. Checking things off is satisfying to me. And, I can look back and see what I’ve done.
There are several ways to do this – Google Tasks, Todoist, Apple Notes on your phone, a pad and paper, whatever works for you. Schedule jobs you tend to procrastinate on onto your calendar. For example, I want to send a newsletter to my customers every week. By putting that task on my calendar as an appointment with myself, not only am I more likely to do it; when I look back at my week, I can see that I got something done in that block of time.
About a year ago, I started practicing gratitude, with intention. Every morning before I get out of bed, I think about three things I am grateful for. These can be as big or as small as I like. But, I try to make them different every day. I don’t allow myself to be grateful for “negatives.” If that is what comes to mind, I flip it. Instead of “I’m grateful that I’m not sick.”, I will say, “I’m grateful for my health.”
Similar to my morning gratitude practice, I am incorporating a daily evening review. I do this review after dinner when I’m winding down for the day, or when I get into bed at night. I think about the things I got done that day instead of only fixating on how much I have to get done tomorrow. By tackling the short-term goals every day, the long-term goals will take care of themselves.
By setting reasonable goals for myself, prioritizing, documenting, reviewing what I’ve accomplished, and giving myself credit for what I am accomplishing, I am finding it easier to manage being overwhelmed by what can seem like to much to do and not enough time to do it.
Nice post Brian! I think overwhelm is an increasing problem in this day and age – everything seems to be moving faster, with more moving pieces, all the time. It’s definitely something I struggle with, and I like your suggestions, especially setting realistic expectations – this is where things start to go off the rails. Another thing I find helpful, along the lines of your daily review, is to keep a daily journal and include my accomplishments for the day – that way, I have “evidence” that I’m actually getting things done when I start to think that I’m not.