11. Distinguish real priorities from busy work
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
In order to thrive during this time, you need to make time to plan your 3 big priorities for the day. Ditch the to-do list as this has become a guilt and survival list with an unrealistic number of tasks to complete in a day. Instead, create a success list. Prioritise your top 3 actions for the day and then schedule them in to your calendar. My benchmark interrogation to define my priorities is ‘If I don’t get this done today, I know I won’t sleep tonight’.
In this time of uncertainty, I know everything seems urgent but again ask yourself – ‘Are these my priorities or everyone else’s? The reason planning is so important is that it is your compass to keep you on track for the day.
When you sit down to begin your task, do not open your inbox. The reason is one priority just become seven and now you launch yourself into a mode of reaction, overwhelm and stress. First make progress on your goals and then check in to see what the rest of the world wants from you. Don’t convince yourself that you will miss something important if you don’t check in to your inbox first – if it is so urgent, they will call.
Some key questions to ask yourself:
- Am I working around the clock because I am failing to plan?
- Am I starting my day opening my inbox and just following along what’s required of me?
- Am I procrastinating on the tasks at hand?
- Is overwhelm preventing me from taking necessary action?
- Do you often hear yourself saying that you do your best work under pressure?
- What are the consequences in terms of your life and the quality of your results?
If you answered yes to the above, then you are completely human and you can have the peace of mind that we all fall into the trap of procrastination. The solution is to chunk down the task at hand into smaller steps, think Lego bricks. I like to call these chunks micro wins.
If you need to prepare a presentation to your team, don’t get stuck in the thought of ‘THE presentation’ and what it could mean for you. Just start on the first tiny step which is write down the slide headings. Done. That small amount of progress, even if it’s a 20 minute block of time will boost your energy to continue and you realise it really isn’t that bad after all. Then the next working session you can start to write your 3 top ideas for each slide. Done. And so you continue.
The pattern of overwhelm and procrastination is what keeps you working around the clock, often it’s not the task itself if you are being completely honest with yourself.
The truth is that the way our days are unfolding, we don’t have the luxury of hours of interrupted blocks of time, irrespective of whether you have kids or not. Don’t wait for that precious hour to open up into your calendar before you make progress on something. Create pockets of time in between these activities, meetings, homework to just begin.
Think how different you will feel when you utilise these gaps of time for progress rather than cat videos, useless surfing, endless checking into the social channels and news feeds.
12. Take breaks
‘Busy is a decision’ – Debbie Millman
Do you ever feel depleted but still push through into your next activity without a break, even though you know you should take a breather?
Are you feeling more exhausted throughout the day but feel like you should just power through it?
A huge contributing factor to working around the clock is that you are probably not taking enough breaks throughout the day. Research says we should be taking breaks anywhere from 50 to 75 minutes for a duration of about 15 minutes in between.
According to an article from The New York Times, “A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity—and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.”
You need to give your body a break from the posture you’ve been holding while sitting. Get up and move around a bit, and do some basic stretching like rolling your shoulders, stretching your neck from side to side and releasing any tension in your jaw and other areas you can feel tightness or stiffness building up.
Taking breaks regularly not only energises you, but gives you an opportunity to check in to the other areas of your life throughout the day and stop working around the clock.
In his bestselling book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy says that doing the same thing for extended hours in the same environment can become mentally stale. You need novelty to keep the brain active. You need a timeline to keep you on your toes. You need difficulty to keep yourself open, humble, and effortful. If you notice yourself zoning out or purposefully distracting yourself, you need to step into a new environment.