So! I’ve been learning a lot lately about managing tasks and ideas, almost as quickly as this guy:
(For previous references to this Star Trek episode in this blog, see here and here.)
Here are some things I’ve been learning (and re-learning) about getting things done, without feeling overwhelmed. (By the way, if you feel overwhelmed by the length of this list — or by all the links in this post — see #1, below.)
# 1. You don’t have to do everything immediately.
Often, you don’t even have to do anything immediately.
When I think of something I have to do, sometimes I act immediately for fear that I’ll forget it or I won’t do it. And sometimes that immediate action is not only unnecessary, it’s not advisable. (For example, lately I have been fighting the urge to record an idea or make a phone call on my cell phone while I’m driving.)
Have faith that if an idea is important, it will re-occur to you in the future. When you think of a task you need to do, even if it feels urgent, take a breath and allow yourself to ask a few questions about it — How urgent is this, really? How should I prioritize it? When might I have time to do it well enough?
In general, have faith in your process. Try telling yourself “I have all the time I need” (even if you don’t really believe it).
# 2. It can help to write things down.
To Do Lists for tasks and lists of ideas can be very helpful, especially for actions or ideas that (1) you can’t act on it on the moment or (2) you are likely to forget.
I have mixed feelings about To Do Lists. They can help me remember things, but I’m concerned they might become Dreaded Lists of Shoulds and Proof To The Universe about What I’m Not Doing.
Also, I might lose a To Do List, and then spend precious time looking for the friggin’ thing.
However, I do have a big notebook at work where I write down my Really Important Things To Do, and that seems to work. I’ve been trying to use my various electronic devices, too, as additional Ticklers, Reminders, Updates, Notifications, etc. etc. but haven’t quite mastered those options yet.
A Digression (and short Temper Tantrum) about Tasks and Technology
There are SO many choices of how my cell phone, my lap top, and work computer can remind me about stuff!! Eeeek! That gets overwhelming. It’s like technology is getting better at helping us keep track of things at the same exact pace that technology is making us need to keep track of more things.
End of Digression
#3. If there is an idea or a task that you CAN act on in the moment, consider doing it in the moment.
This may sound contradictory with #1 above, but there you go.
Letting go of shoulds and the anxiety about “I have to do this NOW!” can help you act in the here and now (and procrastinate less).
Here are some thoughts that can make it difficult to act in the moment:
- This is important, so I have to do it well (or perfectly).
- I don’t have enough time!! (Hint: there’s never enough time for perfection.)
- There’s a chance for failure here, and that would make me feel worse.
To deal with paralyzing perfectionism, fears of failure, and too-much-to-do, practice giving yourself some slack. Try doing something that’s Good Enough, within a short period of time. Making some progress will help (and you can always go back to it later).
#4. Set limits with other people.
If other people are involved in the tasks you need to do, it’s very helpful to set their expectations. This can do wonders in reducing future anxiety — it’s like an anti-anxiety inoculation!
Here’s how it works. When somebody is making a request of you (verbally or implied), respond with some version of this:
I can do this. I cannot do that.
An expanded version of the above is:
I can do these things (by this time). I cannot do these things (unless I get more resources).
You might worry that the person you are setting limits with will take offense at that. If you are clear, direct, and specific, they will probably appreciate knowing this information. And, they will be more likely to leave you alone while you are getting things done!
You might not set limits or manage expectations perfectly. You might promise something initially which you can’t meet. (I’m getting better at setting limits, but I tend to over-promise and under-estimate the time I need to do something.) If you over-promise or under-estimate, let the other person know as soon as possible, thus reducing your future anxiety and guilt, as well their potential pissed-off-ed-ness.
#5. Allow yourself the room to be “not perfect.”
You may think you need to be perfect, but nobody else expects that from you. (If somebody does expect perfectionism from others, they will be disappointed. If they don’t learn from that disappointment, they will be disappointed — and ineffective at dealing with people — their whole lives.)
You don’t have to get things right the first time — whether it’s managing expectations, writing, or anything else. You can recover from most “mistakes.”
Do you believe that?
Try believing it, and see what happens.
#6. Set limits with yourself.
Give yourself a time limit to work on something. Limit the number of tasks you are going to try to accomplish.
For example, I find it helps me to set a time limit on how long I spend writing my blog posts during the week days, and also limit myself to one blog post per day.
#7. Take care of yourself.
If you feel overwhelmed, take a break. Consider the possibility that you don’t HAVE to do anything right now. (I wrote a long post about that, here.)
If you are physically uncomfortable, change your position or adjust the heat.
If you need food, get yourself some (as soon as you can).
If you need sleep, get yourself some (as soon as you can).
Recognize that you might have too much to do, and choose one task to do next.
Let go of guilt and judgment about what you’re not doing. (I wrote more about that, here.)
Notice and compensate for distorted priorities.
(Here’s some typical distorting prioritizing from me, which I’m doing less these days:
I need to do this NOW, because if I don’t, this person will be ANGRY, and I’m afraid of that person or I’m afraid I will lose that person.)
Where I work, everybody has too much to do, and that seems to be getting worse as time goes on. People are coming up with creative ways to deal with this.
A nurse I really like came into my office the other day to share how she manages having too much to do, without becoming overwhelmed.
One of the things she told me was, “I ask myself, ‘Which is the task and which is the interruption?’ If I can’t tell which is which, that means I’m overwhelmed. Then, I choose one and proceed with that one. And …. I cannot choose incorrectly.”
I thought that was great.
#9. Recognize that there are some tasks you just don’t want to do.
Allow yourself to have some sort of tantrum about that, if that would help.
(I DON’T WANT TO WORK ON MY TAXES TODAY!!!!!! It’s not fair!!!)
Then, break that task into small steps and take the next one.
(First, I have to locate my documents. How about one document? That seems do-able)
Consider giving yourself a reward for doing a task you don’t want to do.
(I’m going to see the movie “Argo” at 4:30!!)
Also, try to reduce the pain of the actual process.
(Somebody at a group last week suggested working on taxes while listening to music you really love. I’ll listen to music on my headphones while looking for these friggin’ documents.)
Let go of cognitive distortions and the resulting guilt or shame about this:
( What’s the matter with me? This shouldn’t be so hard! I’m such a weird-o about doing taxes. Other people don’t have this problem. I probably shouldn’t even be writing about this in the blog. People are going to think I’m strange! There is NO reason why I haven’t been able to get to this before today!)
(Hmmm. Actually, all of those statements above are false.)
#10. Figure out short cuts and save them, for future easy access and use.
Figure out short cuts that work for you, and try to make these short cuts easy- to-access, especially when you’re in the midst of being overwhelmed.
I’ve been trying to figure out short cuts at work lately, because I have way too much to do. (Like everybody else there.) For example, I’ve been making templates of the notes I need to write, giving myself prompts and choices for information I need to include.
I’ve been trying to figure out short-cuts here, too, so I can blog more quickly and efficiently. For example, I looked for a short-cut, yesterday, for inserting a copyright symbol at the end of a blog post.
It’s even simpler than I expected. You can simply type a copyright symbol. On a Mac, it’s Option + G.
#11. Let go of judgment about how you’re doing.
Tell yourself “I’m doing the best I can” in managing tasks and ideas (whether or not you believe it). Cut yourself some slack, especially if you’re doing something new (or something that feels new, because you haven’t done it enough times or recently enough to feel practiced).
#12. Be aware of your strengths and limits.
Use your strengths whenever you can, and let go of judgment about your limits.
#13. Ask for help, especially regarding your limits.
This may be hard to do, but try this, please.
#14. If you are stuck, choose something easier to try.
If you are having trouble getting things done, choose one task that seems the most do-able in the moment.
#15. Consider editing your list.
Change priorities and even delete things that just aren’t that important to get done. Consider making things simpler.
#16. Pad your list, to give yourself a sense of accomplishment.
Put things on your list that you’ve already started. Add routine tasks. This will give you a sense of accomplishment when you cross them off..
#17. Notice your resistance, letting go of judgment.
If you’re resisting doing something, assume that — on some level — that resistance makes sense. See if you can figure that out. Even if you can’t, try to let go of judgment about the resistance.
Also resistance may mean that you don’t yet have what you need (data, support, completing something else first) in order to continue with your task.
Wow! That list included a LOT of what I know, about a lot of things.
I wonder if there’s anything I have left to tell you for the rest of this year?
Hmmm. Maybe I should do a To Do List about writing future blog posts.
- Start a list of ideas for future blog posts. (Pssst! I’ve already done that!)
- Keep adding to that list.
- Remember that I don’t have to come up with completely new topics. I can keep writing about similar topics, in different ways (hence role-modeling the importance of “practice, practice, practice”).
- Consider spending the rest of the year posting more scenes from that Star Trek episode with Gary Lockwood.
That’s a good enough list, for now.
Thanks for reading.
© 2013 Ann Koplow
(Note: I just want to let my regular readers know that my test results came back and I do NOT have endocarditis. Yay!)
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Lots of good advice here, Ann!