Do you ever get the feeling that you’re swimming in the deep end? Are there days when you just can’t get moving because there’s so much to do that you don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, you’re not alone; this feeling is something most people experience on a fairly regular basis.
There is unfortunately no silver bullet when it comes to overcoming this feeling, but there are a couple of small steps you can to try to deal with things in a way that helps.
The first step is one that you’ve probably forgotten about. Start by sitting down to set some personal goals. You probably did this when you started your career, but not for a number of years, now. In many cases you may have even achieved those personal goals and you never thought it necessary to revisit them. Setting personal goals, ones that can be achieved in a 3-5 year cycle, are very important because they give you somewhere to go. They create a sense of direction and can provide context for evaluating the ideas and opportunities that arise in a way that is constructive and beneficial to you. When you have goals set, you’ve laid out a roadmap with some milestones along the way and when something new pops into focus, you can determine whether it fits with the direction you want your life and career to be going. I know it sounds a bit “new age”, and since I live in California I rightly deserve to be poked fun at, but goal setting is an integral part of your life. Setting goals for a 3-5 year cycle are also important because that’s not a lifetime away. Those goals are close, and you can aim for success without having to wait forever to see the outcome.
Of course, some people will say, “5 years is a long time, how do I balance each day of the week”? Day in and day out can be tough, but one of the best ways to not get overwhelmed here is to break your day down to digestible chunks. Everyone has a to-do list and in most cases those lists are endless, with hundreds of items scratched down in poor penmanship. One little trick is to take 3 items from the list, place them on a post-it note on your computer and agree that you’re day won’t be done until those three items are complete. What that does is give you something to center your day. It gives you something to come back to when you get distracted and it gives you focus for the 8-12 hours in front of you. Having a short list of immediate to-do’s means the large list won’t overwhelm you. It also creates space in your day, allowing you to feel a sense of accomplishment when something on the short list is completed.
Of course that short list can be a burden when you factor in distraction, so the simplest way to avoid feeling overwhelmed is to limit the opportunity for distractions. Believe it or not, the majority of distractions are your own fault because you allow yourself to be distracted. Sometimes it can be as simple as closing the door, turning off the phone, or shutting down your email for an hour. Maybe it means setting aside 30 minutes for “fun stuff”, and following that time with 60 minutes of work. By breaking the day down in to 30 and 60-minute components, you can achieve more than if you try and tackle the day in 3, 4, or 8 hour shifts. If you ask novelists how they write their books they’ll tend to tell you it’s a series of these digestible writing periods (followed, of course, by the 5 day sequestered periods where they have to hit a deadline, but that’s because writers are famous procrastinators).
That sense of overwhelm can be replaced with a sense of accomplishment if you manage your day the right way, suited to how you work. A series of daily accomplishments can string together a very positive few weeks and before you know it you’re getting things done in an effective and efficient manner!
At least, that’s what my therapist tells me ;-)