We need to stop running! Not all of you amazing marathon runners – you all keep up the good work. We’re talking about the busy-ness and chaos that ensues when there’s too much to do and no time to breathe. It feels like so many people we’ve talked to are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. This is not okay!
How do we stop running?!?
Identify and manage your big rocks.
It’s important to schedule the highest priorities first. Not when you get around it, but very first. Stephen Covey creatively explains how to schedule things effectively. You put in the big rocks (the things that are most important to you like family and friends, big projects, community service) first, so there’s room for them. You don’t try to shove the big stuff in after filling your schedule with “filler” – the tiny little pebbles that fill our lives (e.g., endless email exchanges, Facebook, TV, etc.). What are your big rocks? Make sure you know what they are, so you can block out ample time for them. They shouldn’t be after thoughts – they’ll always get short-changed if you do that!
Chunk your time.
When you know what your big rocks are, you have to schedule blocks of time to manage them. It can also help to “chunk” your time by task. If I’m seeing clients, let me keep seeing clients. If I’m writing, let’s keep on writing. The same goes for phone calls. You can get in a rhythm and keep on trucking. Switching back and forth frequently throughout the day can cause a lot of transition time. It takes different mindsets and skills for different types of tasks, so it can be especially hard to get into a rhythm, if you don’t chunk your time appropriately. Now – you want to make sure you don’t overdo it (like seeing 9 clients in a row without a break or slogging through a 7-hour writing session), but when you can chunk your time by activity, it can make you more efficient.
Pay attention to timing and rhythm.
To that same end, you want to schedule tasks within the correct time of day. There are times when you have energy and creativity, times when you need to move more slowly. You need to respect your natural rhythms in order to make the best use of your time. You can put something early in the morning and it may be the perfect time for you OR it could be a time that there is no way you would ever accomplish it. You can put your best intentions forward, but it still never gets done. Schedule to what’s realistic for your body/mind/spirit, rather than what you wish was the case.
Add in buffers around your scheduled activities.
Whenever you can, schedule in a buffer around your important items. Extend your anticipated travel time to give you space to deal with traffic and parking; make sure you accommodate transition time from one activity to the next. Don’t make your schedule one where you have to have each thing go perfectly and even then, you’re still running from one thing to the next. Stop adding in one more email, one more phone call, to try to be “hyper efficient.” In fact, you’re actually setting yourself up to be late and, potentially, seen as incompetent or disrespectful. Best case, you only giving yourself a vicious case of anxiety heartburn as you race from place to place (hoping to beat the time on Google Maps).
Clearly determine what constitutes a crisis.
Now, of course, all of this flies out the window when there is a crisis. But what exactly is a crisis? Oftentimes, everything seems to rise to the level of a crisis. Especially when it’s someone else’s crisis. (I need this immediately or the world will come crumbling down!) First off, you are not responsible for others’ crises. Let’s say that again – you are not responsible for someone else’s crisis! Now, we’re talking about other responsible adults who transfer responsibility to you, here, not children and other dependents. These friends, coworkers, or family members seem to feel entitled to your help, even when it puts you in a bind. You can also do this to yourself – you get an idea of something you need to do and drop everything to do it – with the same results. Your well-planned day, with time blocks set for the big rocks, is now in a shamble. True crises need to be managed immediately. They are life or death (literally or figuratively for your family or business). When you feel the “crisis” energy come upon you, take a breath and figure out if you can wait. Can I schedule time later to handle this? Can I delegate this to someone else? Can I stay on track or do I need to derail my day for this? Don’t jump in until you’ve answered no to all of these questions.