Get yourself a method, not a meltdown

Do you have too much to do? Does your head feel muggy with all the things you are trying to remember?  Did you walk into another office for a specific purpose and then…………………….”hang on, what the heck did I come in here for?”  Try this little experiment – give yourself a minute, yes, just one minute to jot down everything that is currently on your mind no matter whether it is in a home or work context.  

Minute over?  How did you do?

The last person that I asked to do this came up with an incredible 45 items.  45!  And not one of them was in a system of any kind that would remind him of the need to complete it, even a simple ‘to do’ list.  He was just relying upon remembering them all.  Little wonder that he was feeling stressed and little wonder that many of the items kept periodically coming back to the front of his mind in a kind of guilt-ridden ‘you haven’t done me yet’ reminder.

Now those of us who, without self-regulation, are procrastinators at heart (and I genuinely do include myself in that) may have found solace in the findings of Chu and Choi who, in 2005, managed to put a positive spin on it.  They coined the phrase ‘active procrastination’ to describe a delay with a positive outcome, a deliberate strategy used (even if sub-consciously) by those who deliver better, possibly more creative work when under extreme time pressure.  Yes, we like that because it sounds positive.  However, even taking this into account, retaining so many issues in the short term memory at any one time without creating a safety net system to effectively process them is a recipe for stress.

There are so many things that we can do to help ourselves cope, but here are just a few dead easy reminders of how to stay sane when you have a shed load of things to do:

1. Create a system, any system that works for you, to remind you of what you need to take action on.  If it is a chunky item, eg delivering a project, break it down into actionable items

2. Open your post (emails) once a day only and (this part is critical) turn off your email notification alert – you know, that totally distracting pop-up in the bottom right hand corner of your screen that takes your mind away from what you were supposed to be doing.

3. Grow to love your ‘delete’ button.  If you get stacks of emails each day, sort them into name order and then bin, yes bin, whole blocks of them that you know you don’t want, eg mailshots, sales pitches.  You’ll be amazed how liberating this will feel.

4. Only open an email once (tempting though it is to tell yourself you will come back to some of them).  If you can action it within a couple of minutes (even if the action is a delegation) just do it and then file or delete the email.  If it will take longer, add it to your action list and then file or delete anyway, whatever works for you.

5. Religiously take 10 minutes to review your action list at the end of each day to ensure that you re-prioritise.

6. Ensure that ‘home’ items (buy light bulbs, make optician appointment etc) are included in the system (why not?) or if you prefer, create a separate system at home – it’s not hard.

This is only a snapshot of a wider approach to improving your own personal effectiveness, but if you are disciplined with it, or a similar approach, the small amount of time invested each day will be rewarded several times over in time saved to focus on more value adding activities.