A friend wrote this week exasperated from feeling so tired all the time — with clients constantly pushing deadlines and boundaries — and owning a never ending roster of emergencies.
Its easy to feel this way — we all have way too much input, allow way too many folks intimate and/or immediate contact, and can quickly find ourselves trapped in overflow — and overwhelm — all day long.
Like most everything — fixing this will be a process not an instant thing but there’s lots you can do turn this madness around — starting next week. Here’s some practical advice:
o Start with a firm list of things to just say “NO” to. Its OK to turn stuff, work, people down. This is critical because in a world of unlimited incoming, opportunity and communication — saying “NO” to stuff is the only way to ever really have any time for the stuff you want to say “YES” to
o Check your general incoming emails and phone calls only 3-4 times a day. Sure, lookout for incoming answers you’ve been waiting for — but “the world” only gets incoming on a schedule — at say 9:30 am, 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm each day.
o Develop a habit of responding to “incoming” on a schedule too — say sometime before 10:00 am and sometime after 3:00 pm. I keep a running list of who to call but do not respond “on-demand” to non-urgent (my definition not theirs) stuff off schedule. Its OK to let your VM get it — and to let email age in your inbox until you can find an hour to devote to all of them and power through the backlog.
o Block off, in advance, 1/2 day early in the week, a 1/2 day in the middle of the week and a 1/2 day late in the week to “schedule out” or “schedule focus time” — blocks of the week where you “Act” not be “Acted Upon”.
o Make written ToDo List(s) and use them every day. I suggest at least 3 broad categories:
– Urgent & Important (I label this ToDo),
– Important But Not Urgent (I label this one Next), and
– Other Stuff (I label this one “Waiting For Columbus” — I’ll deal with this stuff when Christopher Columbus finds this folder).
o Get the ToDo list done — hardest items first — each day/week. Forget the stuff in the other lists for the day/week. Two further tips here — recreate these lists everyday (so you start each day with something to accomplish rather than a list of what you’ve already done) — and — stuff on the lists NEVER become urgent just because they’ve been on your list a while. In fact, aging but never requiring you to deal with it is often a sign that you’re starting to master using this system.
o Keep a tally each month of every (more than say 5 or 10 minute) phone call and in-person interaction — and how many times you spoke with each person during the month. Use this list to slow down the frequency of contact with exceptionally needy people. My list is the classic name with chalkboard tally strikes.
o Develop a “I’m talking and I can’t shutup list” and slowly move these folks to email and less frequent calling. All of us know someone who “always wants to talk but never has anything to say”.
I use a pocket size moleskine (www.shop.moleskine.com) for all of the above. It works fine.
PS: I assume everyone I regularly interact with uses this exact system. You should too — it will help you feel better about using it and speed your path to getting control of your schedule again.
Cheers and Happy Scheduling. DC