Do you often feel overwhelmed, that you have too much to do and cannot achieve everything? That’s a common feeling, says Anna Dearmon Kornick, certified time management coach and head of the community at Clockwise, which makes time management software for teams. But the reason for that feeling may not be what you think it is, she says. It may not be because you have too much work to do. You may have too many different important things to focus on at once. “All that context switching leads to overwhelm,” she said in an interview with Inc.com.
Worse, it can create the illusion that you’re not getting anything done. “We’re actually making an inch of progress on all our projects, rather than making a lot of progress in one area,” she says. “It’s so small that you get frustrated with not seeing great progress, which makes you feel negative about the projects, make you feel bad about yourself or think you’re not good enough.”
You might expect a time management coach to advocate limiting your focus to one task at a time, and eliminating or delaying the rest. Unfortunately, real life rarely works that way. You probably have employees, customers, co-workers, and even family members who need you to focus on different priorities so they can work at their best. “When you work with a team, time is a shared resource,” she says.
If you’re stuck with changing context as a fact of life, what can you do to lessen the overwhelm? Here’s her counterintuitive advice.
1. Keep a visual overview of all your projects.
“I find that so many people who feel overwhelmed are overwhelmed because they don’t have a view of everything they’re managing right now,” Kornick says. “So when it comes time to prioritize and make a decision about what to do next, they can’t choose because they don’t have a picture of the full menu. Things just bounce around in their heads.”
So first, make sure you have a clear list of all your currently active projects and tasks, both in your work and personal life, and that the list is somewhere you can easily see it. For example, Kornick has a prominent whiteboard in her office with all of her work and personal projects on it. “Having that image helps you do a mental walk-through at the end of the day,” she says. “Ask yourself what the status of each is, what is prioritized and what is left behind.”
With the list in front of you, you can see which projects you might be able to pause and which you can’t because they depend on someone else’s deadline, or someone else’s deadline depends on it. You can also see which obligations are “nice to have” but not essential. “Here we look at things like volunteer obligations and obligations on the personal side,” she says. “And then we look for ways to politely step back and fix things. We need to see where we can be relentless and distance ourselves from things, and with things you can’t get away from, can you ask for help? “
2. Rank your projects and tasks in order of importance.
This can be very difficult to do, Kornick says. “We’re often very reluctant to make big decisions and say that one project is more important than another because choosing means doing everything we can. And it means we can’t spend that much time elsewhere. And we would like to believe that we have enough time for everything.”
That’s why it’s both very challenging and very rewarding to make an organized list of your projects and priorities, she says. “So you’ve got that clear line in the sand that you’ve drawn for yourself to know every moment, when you have to make a decision about what to focus on — there’s your list. You’ve got it there.”
3. Design your ideal work week.
“Designing an ideal week is creating a template for how you would like to spend your time from week to week,” Kornick says. “It’s not meant to be perfect, nor is it meant to be a measure of how good you are. It’s a decision-making tool so that in an ideal week you can decide the optimal way you would like do you spend time?”
Start filling out big items that aren’t based on deadlines, but help you perform at your best, she says. That can be things like exercise, making sure you rest and recharge, as well as your morning routine, your routine at the end of the day and planning for the next day. Once these are there, add any regular weekly meetings or commitments.
If that’s all in your ideal week, you can see how much time is left for things like working on big projects, making phone calls, pitching, and so on. “We can only get about four real hours of productivity a day for concentrated work before we get exhausted,” she says. For most of us, this equates to a work block of about two hours in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Since most of us have the most attention in the morning, she suggests devoting your morning work block to concentrated work like writing, and the afternoon to meetings. “It really starts with zooming out and seeing what those most important items are, putting them in first, and then designing your week to support those,” she says.
I don’t know about you, but this advice makes a lot of sense to me. The combination of my upcoming workshops, a new book launch and international travel on top of my daily routine is making me struggle. So I’m going to try all of Kornick’s suggestions. And you?
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.
This post Feeling overwhelmed? Here’s the Counterintuitive Cure, According to a Time Management Expert was original published at “https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/overwhelmed-time-management-context-switching-prioritizing-anna-dearmon-kornick.html”