What I notice for a lot of people wanting to beat overwhelm, lower their stress and feel more control in their day, is that they’re not taking that control. They’re bobbing on an ocean of busy-ness, demands and distractions and going where the merry water will take them. They may occasionally try grabbing an oar and shuffling some water, hoping to find some kind of steadiness, only to bob up and over another wave of demanding frenzy.
So, following an earlier missive on this subject [How to beat overwhelm at work and rock the house] I add to this repertoire of cleverness three more strategies designed to give you BOTH oars and a map.
Put your oar in the water. Onwards.
Because isn’t it easy to think that one day the seas will settle, the sky will clear and somehow it’ll all miraculously be under control? You’ve probably heard your hubby or friend say, ‘It’ll quieten down again at some stage.’
It’s for you to take control of your day, your diary and your destiny.
No one else will do it for you; not your boss, not your dearly beloved, and certainly not your kids or clients because they are focused on what they need. That’s ok. It is what it is. But being at the mercy of those wants without having your own structures and boundaries in place is exhausting.
Is it not?
This stuff is not rocket science, it’s simple and it’s pretty time savvy – because I know you don’t need any more complexity or time consuming stuff to do. You’re on it, have a good brain in your head, and this is about channelling that brilliance with a few handy tweaks to how you currently operate, should you so desire to give them a go (which I un-apologetically highly recommend).
We’re going to talk about two juicy strategies:
- Respecting the 60 Second Rule
- Taming your email once and for all
Let’s start, oh brilliant one.
1 – Respect the 60 Second Rule
This is the deal with the 60 Second Rule: regardless of how organised, efficient and competent someone is, only 60 seconds of activity can be carried out in 60 seconds. And therefore, of course, 60 minutes of activity can be carried out in 60 minutes. At a practical level that means allowing time for the whole of a task. It means allowing time for preparation before a meeting, travel time to the meeting, follow up work after the meeting, etc so you know you have actual space for what is planned. It means factoring into your week those two hours you tend to need for admin stuff or meetings.
It means taking a few moments when you’re planning your day or your week to predict as well as you can how much time something will take. Some people do this automatically. For instance, I don’t always need to have this conversation with those clients of mine who have a natural preference for being planned and organised, or those who are quite detail oriented. But if like me you tend to have a big picture mind or you like a fairly loose diary and not a lot of planning, you may be susceptible to breaking the 60 Second Rule.
I used to break it all the time and it is, well, stressful! The moment we break the rule we put pressure on ourselves – and even if you are consciously convinced it’s all in hand, your unconscious mind usually knows it’s not workable, thus creating an undercurrent of stress.
What can you do?
- Regularly check, what are you trying to fit into the time you have? Reality check for yourself what is actually DO-ABLE.
- Consider in which areas of your life do you mostly try to fit more in to time than can fit? At work? In the weekends?
- How can you remind yourself of the 60 Second Rule? Try a post-it note in a few places for a week with something on it like “Am I sticking to the 60 Second Rule?” or “Remember the 60 Second Rule, honey.” I’m always nice to myself when I write myself post-its.
2 – Tame your email once and for all
I can’t tell how profound this one piece of advice can be for some people. I’ve had clients transform their whole work week by doing this one thing:
TURN OFF YOUR EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS.
This means the little envelope that pops up in the corner of the screen, the ding, any pop ups on your phone. All of it.
These make you a SLAVE to your emails, your inbox, the demands of others, the latest Briscoe’s sale or super-duper-you’ve-got-to-be-on-it-webinar and anything else that might happen to hit your inbox, God forbid.
Every time you go into your inbox without a clear intention for what you’re doing, you risk great distraction and wasted time. As per my previous blog on overwhelm here, start your day with the THREE KEY THINGS you want to achieve in your day and let that be what guides your priorities in the day. Start there and then check your inbox.
Let your TO-DO LIST DRIVE YOUR DAY, not your Inbox.
Now I can hear already the concerns of yes, but, there might be urgent emails I need to attend to or tasks that need priority over my list. That could be true. But often it isn’t. Let that be the exception, not the rule. I know well from working with professional service firms, manufacturing companies etc for many years that in some organisations and roles you need to be tracking email very regularly. Just check for yourself whether how frequently you do it allows you to get anything worthwhile done.
Ideally, check email three times a day, allowing 15-45 mins per time to actually clear them, delete, respond, etc. Of course you’d then plan time or take an hour to then carry out a task related to one of those, depending on what’s there. On the other hand, if you are accustomed to checking your Inbox constantly through the day, perhaps take it down to checking it once every hour or two hours. You will find in the end you end up checking it less often.
What if the plan has to change?
Finally, a tip that can make a profound difference to your sanity is this: if you’ve mapped out your three key tasks for the day and then a new priority comes up (a deadline is brought forward, a client issue needs to be handled), PAUSE. Take a few minutes to RESET YOUR TO-Do’s. So often I see people ploughing on, hoping against hope they’ll get it all done, or flailing and losing umph because they already feel defeated. Your whole nervous system can start quietly fizzing when it knows you’re pushing unrealistic and impossible boundaries. This often then activates the stress response, and BOOM, you’re not longer accessing all of your mental faculties because your body is busy FREAKING OUT and not thinking straight.
So, PAUSE. Figure out what is now do-able, move something to tomorrow or delegate it out and then go again. You’ll be more focused, relaxed and productive because the overall plan is within the 60 Second Rule and your mind and nervous system know it’s in hand and is CALM.
Go forth and be brilliant, both hands on both oars and steady as she goes.