Some days there is a lot of work, some days it is lighter, and some days there is simply so much to do that it can feel incredibly overwhelming. Even when we are clear on our boundaries and we know how to offload some of our work so we can stay focused, we still have more to do than would seem humanly possible. So how do I recommend staying in the flow, getting all the work done, and not losing your mind, your marriage, or your health?
Get It Out Of Your Head
Here is a process that helps get your overwhelming list out of your head so you, and others, can work on it.
- Start by creating a list of all the items you have to do (not just the work stuff)
- Highlight the items that will affect your bottom line – revenue-generating items. Things like calling back prospects, editing a book, training that will get you a specific client, creating a proposal, etc.
- Use a different highlighter colour to highlight anything that is personal. For instance, driving kids places, banking, license renewals, calls, etc.
- Put a star beside anything that must be done immediately. For instance, I had to make time to drive my daughter to school early the other day to catch the bus for a trip to the music competition. There was no moving this task so it had to get done at that time.
- Create a list of six items to work on for the day. Start with your asterisk-marked items. Put time-bound items first (e.g. must be done by 9 am) and then revenue generating.
When I did this I found that out of a list of 24 important items I had to do, 4 of which were revenue generating, 6 were personal items, and 5 items marked with an asterisk to work on today, only 2 items overlapped. The items with an asterisk made it into my to-do list for the day with the revenue generating items at the top of the list. If I had just focused on the revenue generating, I would not be able to clear my list or feel I was accomplishing anything because I would still have items that were more urgent on my list. Sometimes seeing them in colour helps prioritize the task easier.
Now that you have your list of 6 things to accomplish for the day, get them in to your calendar. To do this you need to know how long something will take. To drive my daughter to school it is 25 minutes round-trip. I booked 30 minutes in my calendar and knew that at the end of the trip I will have completed everything that is required for me to do. Now if that item was a strategy call, I first have to review a survey I ask people to fill out before we chat, then I have to do the call, and then I have to do the follow-up. The entire task may take an hour. The challenge with intake calls is I book them back-to-back, meaning I have to review all surveys before I start the calls and I then have to do all the follow-up after the calls. It is similar to having three blocks of time to perform three distinct tasks. I block the time before the calls for reviews, do the calls, then block time after the calls for entering information into my database and returning information to clients/prospects that asked for info.
The key here is to make sure that none of these blocks are longer than 90 minutes. You will find that you are more productive if you give your brain, and body a break every 60-90 minutes. Take a break and then change direction. Use your calendar alarm or a stove timer to remind you to break and change.
If your day is filled with important, urgent, personal work then understand that this is what needs to happen. Recently, my father-in-law was ill and could no longer live in a city alone with no family near. My brother-in-law flew in from NYC to arrange the transfer all his father’s financial and legal aspects of his life while Brian and I researched retirement homes in our city for him to move to. It took a full 9 hours to visit and evaluate the top 5 homes we had picked from our research. It was an entire day I was unable to really focus on my work, but it was important and it got done. Funny thing is, by saying exactly which day we were able to do this work and not just running at the time the flags went up, we were so much more efficient and focused. Plus, my other work that had to get done also got done. I let go of the worry of “I don’t have time” and looked at what I could do now from my list. I admit I’ve had a few, very long days, but I still made time for my yoga and meditation in the morning, as well as breaks for coffee with friends and time for my kids. When you know what has to get done, and what order it needs to get done in, it will make you most efficient, the work will get done, and you won’t lose your mind doing it.