The more things in your life that you think should be done but leave undone, the more anxiety and stress you experience. Seldom would a person think of a project they had completed or a meeting they had attended or a phone call they had made and feel stressed as a result. The opposite is true. They would feel good about themselves for having completed those things. Unfortunately that feeling doesn’t last when they think of the dozens or hundreds of things that they have yet to do.
According to the statement made in a Fast Company article, it’s no wonder people are stressed. “The typical businessperson experiences 170 interactions per day (phone calls, hallway conversations, e-mails) and has a backlog of 200 to 300 hours of uncompleted work.” It’s doubtful the average backlog has reduced any during the last 15 years.
If you don’t think something should be done and therefore don’t do it, you’re usually not under stress as a result. If you simply don’t care whether something gets done or not, you’re not under stress either. I’ve never seen a child have an anxiety attack because they hadn’t cleaned their room yet.
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 we should do is to write them all down. 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. And even If we are going to be anxious about them, we might as well be anxious about them all at the same time.
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 drifting in and out of their minds that they feel should be done. Capture them and delete them before they delete you.
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. It’s the greatest antidote for this type of anxiety that I know.
Your list may still not be down to a manageable size. 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 this week. If they are huge, time-consuming tasks, break them down into chunks. Scheduling two or three hours each week to write a lengthy and complicated procedure for instance, will complete it within a few months
Finally, put the remaining items on weekly To Do lists, either in a week-at-one-glance paper planner, your software planner or a handheld computer. Be realistic. Don’t cram them all onto a “Things To Do Today” list. Spread them over the ensuing weeks. 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.
If, after all this, some 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.