The more things in your life that you leave undone, the more anxiety and stress you experience. Completed work does not produce stress. People feel great and are energized when they get things done. It’s the uncompleted items that distract them and drain their energy.
If you simply don’t care whether something gets done or not, you’re not under stress either. I’ve never seen a children have anxiety attacks because they hadn’t cleaned their room yet. But in the business world, such an attitude would hardly be conducive to a successful career.
Being a responsible adult does have its disadvantages. We do care about the multitude of things that should be done. And if we have more to do than we have time for, how do we get out of this Catch 22?
The first thing you might do is to write down everything that you think you have to do. When items are reduced to writing we don’t think of them so often. They no longer pop into our minds unexpectedly, causing incessant anxiety.
The next step is to decide which ones can be eliminated without having a significant effect on our business results or our career or personal or family well-being. Most people have a multitude of things that they feel should be done drifting in and out of their minds. Capture them and delete them before they delete you. Once you have decided not to do them, they can no longer be a vehicle for stress.
Of the remaining items, quickly do those that will take less than five minutes to complete. This does not follow the recommended time management principle of doing the most important things first, but it will sure make you feel good to see all those crossed-off items. And with most of the items off the list, you are able to focus on the ones that are important.
Your list may still not be down to a manageable size. If not, see which items can be delegated or outsourced. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Then prioritize the remaining items. Schedule time to work on the high priority tasks – those that will have significant impact on your personal and organizational goals. The more urgent ones should be scheduled earlier in the week. If they are huge, time-consuming tasks, break them down into chunks. Blocking off two or three hours each week to write a complicated but essential report, for instance, will see it completed within a month or so.
Finally, put the remaining non-priority items on a weekly To Do list, either in a week-at-a-glance paper planner or your electronic handheld device. Be realistic. Don’t cram them all onto a “Things to do today” list. Spread them over the ensuing week or two. If they don’t all get done, it’s no big deal. You have already blocked out the time to work on the ones that are really important.
Basically, you are getting the brief, easy-to-do items done, delegated or deleted quickly, and you are blocking off time in your planner to work on those items that are important. Blocking off time in the future to work on specific tasks or projects is referred to as “scheduling.” The balance of the items, those of minor importance, can be added to a “To Do” list, where they will likely die a natural death if you never get the time to work on them. This happens because scheduled tasks are commitments, while listed tasks are just intentions.
If after all this, a few things still don’t get done, rest assured it’s not your fault. Your job is to do what’s possible, not what’s impossible. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Worry or anxiety weakens your immune system as well as your executive skills, and leaves you open to energy loss.
Making choices do consume energy. The frontal lobes of our brain are constantly weighing the pros and cons of every bit of information, trying to determine the best choice. But once the choices have been made, the stress disappears, and it is no longer an energy drain.