Why do we feel overwhelmed, stressed, and stretched too thin much of the time?
In my experience, one of the primary reasons we struggle with time-management and productivity is that we do not have a system for our tasks and to-dos. Or maybe we do have a system, but we’re not using it consistently.
Many people try to rely on their memories to handle all of the stuff they have to do. But attempting to use our memories to keep track of what we need to do isn’t very effective and it actually increases stress. And most people aren’t able to effectively prioritize their tasks inside their heads anyway. So even if you do remember it all, you’re likely not consistently spending your time on the right things.
When we get all everything out of our heads and into a system, we are able to use our brains in the moment, on the thing we are trying to do, instead of getting stuck in the future or the past.
So, what do I mean by “system”? Well, that’s going to be a bit different for each person. But at its core, a system is a method for capturing, organizing, prioritizing and documenting your tasks and projects. It’s a method that you use consistently to achieve consistent results, and to ensure that you know that you are spending the right amount of time on the right things.
Creating a single trusted system where you keep, and prioritize, all your tasks allows you to know what you are getting to, and what you are not getting to. It ensures that nothing accidentally falls through the cracks, because you are making intentional decisions, with all the data, about what to spend your time on. You’ll be able to refer to your system for planning purposes so that you can focus on the task at hand, which will allow you to actually do the task more efficiently. By using a system, you’ll be more present. And you’ll be able to get more done.
So, how do you do it?
First, start writing it ALL down (the tasks, the projects, the stuff you need to do). The little stuff AND the big stuff. As soon as something you need to do pops into your brain, write it down. The format doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s easy and convenient for you. You may choose a to-do app, a spreadsheet, or even a physical notebook. The important thing is to get that stuff out of your head and into an external place where you know you won’t lose it and can access it when you need it. Once the to-dos are out of your head, your brain actually starts to relax and let go. Once the to-dos are out of your head, you can put them in a system. Once they are out of your head, you can actually prioritize them.
Next, you want to prioritize everything you just got out of your head. Put actual dates around things. Look at your calendar to figure out when you actually have time to do all the stuff on your list. Be realistic.
Finally, act. Now that you’ve got things prioritized, you know when you’ll do them. So do them!
When you don’t have a system, things fall through the cracks. We have a lot of input sources these days: we’ve still got the old inputs like snail mail, phone calls, face to face meetings, (and some offices even still have fax machines!), but we’ve got a lot of new inputs as well: email, messaging apps like Slack and WhatsApp, text, etc. In short, stuff is coming at us from many directions, and if we don’t have a way to catch it all, categorize it and prioritize it, not only do we start to feel overwhelmed FAST, but we start to miss things.
Creating a system that works for you, and filtering all your inputs through it, is one of the best ways you can take back control of your time, and ensure that you’re on top of it all.