I have to admit, I screw up…
Okay, okay. So I’ll also admit that saying that should be as obvious as saying, “I’m human.”
But there’s definitely a pull, in my position, to lie to you. To tell you that I’m always on. That I’m some infallible guru.
When, in fact, that’s 100% NOT the case.
Sometimes, I really don’t want to write these essays. Sometimes, I want to curl up in a cave, and hide.
Sometimes, I just want to quit everything, and get a job where I don’t have to think, or be ambitious, or perform at a high level.
We ALL do.
The more you push yourself to great achievement, the more you’ll have these feelings:
— I’m not good enough for this…
— I’m a fraud and an impostor…
— I should just give up…
… And so on.
It can get especially bad when you’ve been pushing yourself hard, and creating an overwhelming mix of work and responsibilities and obligations for yourself.
Which is part of what I was running into lately.
Between client work (booked out multiple projects in advance), these daily essays, BTMSinsiders training, and new initiatives…
I was swamped.
For a while, I was juggling it.
Then, it got to be too much.
And unfortunately that’s when the stress response set in. The more I had to do, the less I wanted to do. And the more I felt like I was getting behind and needed to get more things done.
It’s a downward spiral from there.
Maybe you’re familiar with this?
Maybe you’ve been through it before?
Maybe you’ve fallen off and out of your productive rhythm — lost momentum — and needed to get back on track, stat?
Thankfully, there’s a clear process for getting back on track…
The following is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and the even-more-useful Making It All Work. (I’m actually listening to the audio book of Making It All Work for the second time in a row.)
And it’s admittedly just a part of a more thorough productivity system. However, if you’re off track (especially due to overwhelm), these are the most critical steps to getting back on track.
In short, you need to get clarity about what it is that you need to do.
The problem most of us face when we hit that point of overwhelm is not that there’s too much stuff to do. There always is and always will be too much stuff to do.
The problem is that we don’t have a clear picture of our many obligations, such that we can make an informed decision, in this moment, of what it is we need to be doing.
Instead of a clear picture of our obligations, we have a fuzzy and incomplete picture of our obligations, held in our head. And because it’s fuzzy and incomplete (and we’re aware of both issues), we always feel like there are obligations that are not being addressed.
There are two steps to getting clear on what it is you need to do:
— Capture everything that’s in your head
— Clarify what it means and what you need to do about it
Capturing everything that’s in your head…
David Allen calls this a mind sweep. Dean Jackson’s 50-Minute Focus Finder process is almost identical.
The idea is that you want to get everything out of your head, and in front of you.
Now, if you’re JUST talking work obligations, you can probably set a timer for 50-minutes, like Dean recommends, and start writing on a notepad.
The first 20 minutes will include all the stuff you’ve been worrying about consciously. The 30 minutes after will include a bunch of bigger ideas your brain wasn’t even letting you remember, as well as some really creative new ideas and solutions.
If you’re really serious about this though, David’s GTD system says you should also collect all the items that have your attention from everywhere in your life.
This can include walk-throughs of your home, your office, and physical inspections of any other items or spaces you’re responsible for. Plus there are inboxes throughout your life (email, physical, social media, etc.) that should be reviewed. And your calendar. And other obligations.
There are GTD resources that cover what to review in great detail, that are far more than I want to cover here.
Either way, your goal in doing this process is to get everything you might need to pay attention to collected in some format that’s easy to reference. (I prefer a mind map for this step of the process.)
IMPORTANT: Your goal at this step is similar to any brainstorming. You are ONLY trying to get things out of your head. You are NOT trying to process or decide what to do about things. That comes later, and I promise it’s worth holding off. If you try to clarify what to do, or steps to take, you’ll shut down and won’t get everything out of your head. So for now, just get everything out of your head knowing you’ll come back to it later.
Then, wait until the next day.
(If you have more things you need to get out of your head, do that. Just don’t try to process your list or mind map yet.)
Clarify what it means and what you need to do about it…
Now that you have everything out of your head, you have to decide what to do with it.
There is actually a sequence of questions you can ask…
First, is it actionable?
If it is, can you do it in less than 2 minutes? If so, just do it.
If it will take longer than 2 minutes, do this:
— Define a clear goal, outcome, or end-point that represents it being DONE.
— Define the next physical action you can take to move it forward.
I’m using Trello as my project management tool of choice for this, although anything that allows you to store and use a large volume of lists can be effective.
So each actionable project or to-do should have a name you use to reference it, a clear finish line, and the next action required to move it forward.
Then, each of these actionable items should be put onto a list or group of lists so that they’re available for you to see and review on an appropriate timeline.
These lists are then reviewed on a regular basis, to prioritize based on whatever factors are most relevant in the total context of your life and work.
For anything that you collected that’s not actionable, you have to decide if you’ll need it later. If so, put it into a reference system that will allow you to find it when needed. And if not, get rid of it.
What’s really important for getting back on track…
The big idea that you should take away from this is that you need to get your many ideas and obligations out of your head, get clear on what “done” looks like, and decide the next thing you need to be doing to move it forward.
Let’s image you’re an athlete.
In fact, you’re a multi-sport superstar. You play basketball, football, baseball, and run track.
That MIGHT work. As long as you can show up to your basketball games and play basketball, show up to your football games and play football, show up to your baseball games and play baseball, and show up to your track races and run track.
But let’s imagine for a minute you’re not clear on what you need to do.
You’re thinking about football when you’re supposed to play basketball. So you grab the basketball and run for the end of the court, then spike it between your legs and yell “TOUCHDOWN!”
Nope, doesn’t work. You’d be kicked off the team.
Or let’s say you show up to a track race with your baseball bat, and start swinging. You’d be kicked out in a minute!
The key is to be able to focus on the field of play you’re on, when you’re on it. To know what the rules, objectives, and goals are to win at that game. And then, to know what next physical action you need to take to play the game well.
The process above applies those necessities to work or any other item you need to get done.
Once you follow that process, it’s surprising how easy it becomes to get back on track and on top of your responsibilities.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,