I just bought a new house. It needed a lot of work. The previous owners evidently did not believe in throwing anything away. Like, ever! Know the show Hoarders? My new house may have served as the R&D department for that show.
About a week into the renovations I found myself totally overwhelmed. I was ripping out carpet, pulling up old flooring and painting walls. No doubt painting is pretty close to purgatory! While I was doing so much work, it felt like I was getting nothing accomplished. I felt so unproductive. It was defeating.
Ever feel that way? Like you are on some treadmill where you increase your energy, but never actually move forward? What a miserable feeling! Overwhelmed is a crushing sense. Worse yet is the stress that is partnered with feeling unproductive.
This struggle is not limited to our personal life. If you are going to achieve in your career and in leadership, you have to get things done. There has to be an ability to make efficient progress under pressure. Being busy is not sufficient. Theory is good. Philosophy is important. Thought leaders are necessary. But if you cannot execute well, your effectiveness is limited. Gold medals are not won on treadmills.
How do you make sure that you are getting things accomplished, yet still have time to enjoy life? Here are 6 ways I have found to be effective.
1. Move something.
I like to call Mondays, "Momentum Monday." My goal is to get 3 things rolling on the first day of each week. Sometimes it is a new thing, sometimes it is restarting a long-term project that slowed over the weekend. Create some forward progress. Hours, days, weeks can be wasted waiting on something to get started. Put a stop to that! Making things happen saves you tons of time. Some things will not move forward without a push.
This initial step is not always about creating movement within my goal. Sometimes it is simply creating movement within myself! If forces me out of complacency. Make a call, send an email, make a visit, go public with a plan. Do something. Bump up against something. Get it moving. Get yourself moving.
2. Plan half.
I am a planner, it is part of what makes me good. Planning can also paralyze me at times. I used to wait until my plan was perfect before I started working. Perfection slows down your ability to get things done. Abandon your emotional attachment to being perfect. Perfectionists are never perfect but perfectionists are always frustrated.
My strategy these days is to plan half of everything. Long term planning is rarely more than three months ahead for me. I figure out how to launch something, gather the right people around me, determine the details that are critical, and and I like to have a skeleton of a plan...and then I want to act. Are you planning so much that you are not actually doing anything? Focus on learning the absolute essentials. Get comfortable planning half and making adjustments along the way.
3. Get the monkey off of your back.
Monkeys are curious creatures. They can spend a lot of energy running in circles playing. If we are not careful we allow counterproductive monkeys to jump on our backs and rob us of efficiency. This happens in several ways. Perhaps we allow "non-urgent” tasks to monopolize our time. People will set your daily agenda if you let them, another monkey. Allowing other people’s problems to dominate your plans arrests progress as well. Part of overcoming this is determining what matters most to those you follow.
Dave Ramsey says one way to get the monkey off of your back is to delegate. You can only accomplish so much. You can multiply effectiveness if I learn to delegate to people. The key is to delegate "tasks + responsibility + authority". If one of those three is missing...it is unfulfilling for people...and frustrating for you. Good delegation requires your best as a leader and makes you more effective.
4. Find your sweet spot.
On Tuesday mornings I don't go to my office. I camp out in a corner at Panera Bread and chip away at a long to-do list. It's 3-4 hours of getting stuff done! It's become my favorite time of the week! That table at Panera on Tuesday mornings is my sweet spot.
Schedule time to work on tasks and projects. Where is your sweet spot? Do you have a place to work where you can disengage from distractions? Maybe a place that is inspiring? When is your sweet spot? Do you work best in the morning? How about the afternoon? Discover one, make time for it, watch productivity soar.
5. Do something risky.
If I get bored, I get out. Without some risk, activities lose their spice. Include some elements to what you do that stretch you. From time to time, do something that scares you to death. Challenge yourself with a task so daunting that if you do not pull it off then you will fall embarrassingly hard on your face. You will never be more productive than when your reputation is on the line. Dream big, risk bigger.
One question that brings this into focus is, "What are you working on that is big?” For a long time I have had that question stored away in my computer. When things get a little rote for me I bring myself face to face with it. Risk forces your best work. Risk eliminates things that monopolize your time and energy.
6. Have fun!
Stress and busyness smother fun. Laughter and fun add to your overall health. Intentionally plan to have fun. I know, I know, it feels weird to “plan fun” doesn’t it? Some even say that you cannot plan real fun, it has to be spontaneous Those people are wrong.
We plan vacations, which are fun. We plan rest, because we need it. We plan things that matter. Important things get scheduled. So schedule some fun. In times when I feel stuck I will block out time on my calendar to just be present with people who make me laugh. Sometimes I schedule a surfing trip to break up the monotony of life. You need to laugh. More importantly, you need to plan to laugh.
As you bravely tackle new endeavors these steps should help lead you to a place of better effectiveness. Implement these thoughts this week and I believe you be free of stress, find yourself more productive, and feel less overwhelmed all at the same time!