It’s no secret that we live in a culture that praises busyness. We are always expected to go, go, go. There's even a trendy acronym, FOMO. No wonder we try to take on as much as we possibly can at one time.
If you have ever taken on more than you should have, you probably realized that there were some serious consequences. I know I have been guilty of stretching myself too thin more than once in my life, and it has left me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. But I've come to realize that in those moments, these four practices help me cope.
These tips won't seem earth-shattering, and that's point. These are easy-to-implement reminders of how important our own sanity is.
01. Set aside time to relax before you schedule time to work.
I've often had so much to do that I felt like I was constantly working. I needed some serious downtime. So my ingenious solution was to try to relax and work at the same time. I would work on homework or writing while watching TV or listening to music. But since I ended up only doing each thing halfway, I neither felt like I had totally relaxed nor done my work well. It was a lose-lose situation.
The fix: Schedule a certain amount of time each day to do something you truly enjoy, like reading, exercising, or chatting with friends (even if that means you have to wake up earlier). You’ll feel recharged and ready to tackle your other projects at 100 percent instead of 50 or 25 percent. Then when it is time to work, set a block of time that you will work entirely distraction-free. You’ll have guaranteed something to look forward to and motivate you as you get your work done.
02. Know the difference between "urgent" and "important".
This seems like a no-brainer, but it's a good reminder when your plate is overflowing. Know which tasks need your attention the most and do those first. Prioritizing your work is the first step to getting organized. Often, I find myself wanting to get everything done, so I try to get each task done as fast as I can. This totally fails because I end up consuming my time trying to juggle everything that I never actually accomplish anything.
The fix: One easy way to prioritize is by using the ABC method. Mark tasks on your list as an A if it is vital and must be done immediately (i.e., it's urgent), B if it is important and needs attention but not right away, and C if it is optional. You may find that putting a little effort into planning ahead results in a more efficient use of your time.
03. Make a list of everything you need to do. Then put it away.
I’m a big fan of lists. If someone ever told me I had to stop making to-do lists, I would probably cry because I'd feel so lost. At the same time, it doesn’t help an already frazzled and stressed brain to constantly see a list of 20 things that need to be done in 2 days.
The fix: Make the list. Prioritize the most imperative items on a separate short list, and then put your "master list" away until you've completed everything on your short list. Do one project at a time. You don't need to think about the million other things you have to do while working on a specific task. Soon, you’ll be knocking things off the master list like a boss, which will make you feel accomplished and motivated to keep chugging along. If there are some tasks left after your deadline, remember that the world won't stop turning if it has to wait another day.
04. Learn that saying "No" is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Sometimes you just can’t take on any more. Sometimes you just have to tell people no. And that is okay. Learn to graciously decline when others ask you for a favor or to take on a project that you know would set you over the edge.
At the 2015 Forbes Women’s Summit in New York City, moderator Denise Restauri explained why saying no is as powerful as saying yes. Restauri quoted Steve Jobs saying, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the 100 other ideas that are there. You have to pick carefully.”
The fix: Practice saying no. (We have a whole article on that here.) It’s nice to think that we can help everybody who asks, but that isn’t sustainable. Saying no is one of the most important skills to acquire if you want to be successful. Knowing where your capabilities and strengths lie is a good way to be more self-aware of how much you can take on, because doing too much is letting yourself down more than anyone else.
These are just some of the lessons I have learned from trying to do everything at the same time for years. I think it’s important to remind myself that I’m not superwoman, and, frankly, I never will be. But having these reminders to fall back on helps whenever I do feel like I need super powers. What do you do when you find yourself so busy you can't handle it? Share in the comments below!