FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.
The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.
How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?
Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.
What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?
Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
An unrealized goal is nothing more than a dream. It’s your choice: Keep it a fantasy or work towards attaining your goal.
Dreams Can and Do Come True When:
Desire is strong enough and not in conflict with your basic life values
Goals are clearly defined and at least partially grounded in reality
Planning is realistic, taking your resources and motivation into account
Effort is real, as is your belief that you can do it, so ‘I want’ becomes ‘I will!’
We all talk about making positive changes, and that’s great. But ask yourself how often those changes actually happen. Good intentions aren’t enough — you need a plan, and it has to be one that fits with your life. So set yourself up for success by following these Eight Steps to Turn Your Goals into Reality!
Set a realistic Long-Term Goal. This is a goal that is meaningful, but not necessarily easy. It will take work, and time, to accomplish, but it is do-able. You may want to be rich, and you might get there (if you’re not already). That could be your long-term goal, but it would be easier to work towards a goal that seems more attainable, even given your current circumstances. Link your goal with a positive, emotionally motivating benefit. State it as a desire, then remove the possibility of failure and state it as a fact. Here’s an example:
“I want to be more financially secure. I will be financially secure.”
Establish one Interim Goal. What is one thing you can do that will contribute towards the success of your long-term goal? Buying lottery tickets is one option, but the odds of success are minimal. A better goal: “I want to/I will manage my money better so I’ll have more of it.”
Consider what gets in the way. Examine your life and be honest with yourself as you ask, “What issues in my life are making it difficult to achieve this goal?” My expenses are very high… My income is too low… I already owe on credit cards and back taxes… I don’t spend enough time on financial matters (it’s easier for me to ignore things and hope they work out)…
Isolate specific actions that you can change (now or in the near future). This is where you explore anything that you can do or change to help attain your goal. Here are some options for better money management: I can stop eating out almost every night… I can plan my wardrobe better and buy during sales… I can move to a less expensive apartment… I can look for a better job… I can pay my bills on time and avoid late fees and interest… I can pull my paperwork together and file past taxes to minimize penalties… I can renegotiate my mortgage… I can get a better handle on where I spend money… I can create a budget that includes regular savings…
Justify (buy-into) each option, or table It as unlikely to work. Ask yourself what are the benefits of making a specific change. Put it in writing. As an example, here are reasons to support the specific action of not eating out every night: Eating out every night is expensive… It loses the “fun factor” and is time consuming, so I have less time for other interests… It promotes drinking, which is a problem and additional expense… I spend more on gas or car service… It is more difficult to eat healthy when I have all of those menu options in front of me…
Examine the down side of change, isolate potential problems and explore creative solutions. Don’t just ignore the possible pitfalls, or your plans to change won’t last very long. Continuing the ‘eating out less’ example:
Problem: Eating out is my main social activity. I don’t want to give this up! Solution:I’ll eat out on Fridays and Saturdays, and really plan and enjoy this. Note: Give yourself permission to act with forethought and moderation, rather than overreact by completely eliminating eating out.
Problem:I never have anything good to eat in the house. Solution:I’ll use an app to set up a simple meal plan and block in time for a weekly shopping expedition — especially for foods I like… or I can shop online and have the food delivered.
Problem: I hate to cook and don’t want to spend my time in the kitchen! Solution: I’ll check out services that prepare and deliver meals for a week. It’s probably still less expensive than always eating out — and healthier!
Take steps to make these changes happen! Ask yourself: What can I realistically do to solve this problem?List each specific action you are willing to do in order to make your new plan work. Turn your project into do-able tasks.
How and when will I do it? Assign a specific time to each action, and schedule it on your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Without an assigned task and time, it is likely to remain a fantasy! So if you plan to eat out only on Fridays and Saturdays, schedule a time to confirm with friends or family in advance… make restaurant reservations, if necessary… download coupons or Groupons to save even more…
How can I make this easier/self-motivate? What can you do that will make staying with your plan easier?
Build in immediate rewards:
Combine your grocery-buying with a special event (getting a massage, meeting a friend for coffee, etc.)
Link it to something you already do each week. “After yoga class on Wednesdays I pass by Whole Foods, so I’ll go food shopping.”
Associate doing it with giving yourself permission to spend time on something else, guilt-free. “I’ll shop after work every Tuesday, have fresh store-made BBQ chicken for dinner then spend the evening catching up on my favorite TV shows.”
Create a ‘fun factor’: “I’ll invite a friend over on Sunday and we’ll both prepare meals for the week”… “My partner and I will have a mini-date night making dinner together”… “I’ll take a cooking class at the Y”…
Reinforce your goal: Bank the money you’ll save by not eating out, and use the time you’ll gain to join a book club, paint, play guitar, or do whatever brings you joy!
Build in reminders:
Visual: Have a photo that represents your long-term goal as a screen-saver.
Physical: Keep a money jar to represent your savings (dimes instead of dollars?)
Emotional: Post an attractive affirmation of the benefits you will get from your actions… Mention that ego-boosting self-respect you’ll get from working towards something that is important to you!
Auditory: Have set times to listen to podcasts on topics related to achieving your long-term goal.
Monitor Progress. When we begin something new, we are high on the excitement, challenge and novelty of the project, and eager to see results and reach our goal. So we stay interested, but, sigh…, not for long. Frustration kicks in and other priorities and new bright and shiny objects will take precedence, unless we reinforce and frequently encourage our commitment. If we’re serious about change, we need to track progress (or lack of) to keep it in the forefront.
Track your actions. Write down everything you are doing, or have planned to do, to help reach your long-term goal. Then track how often and how well you are actually following through with those actions. Studies show that people who want to lose weight do better if they write down everything they eat – this is the same concept.
Maintain self-awareness. Tracking your actions isn’t enough. You’ll want to determine how well they are serving you in reaching your long-term goal. Ask yourself, “What am I doing?”… “How am I doing?”… Be honest in your feedback. Ask “What can I change for the better?”… Take time to consider whether your plans need to be modified, delayed, delegated or deleted. Note: Build this review into your regular Planning Time (weekly, or at the least, monthly).
Prepare for dead-ends. It is difficult to maintain actions, however well-intentioned and thought out, over an extended period of time. Sometimes we are fortunate, and actions become sustainable habits or routines. But not always, so be prepared to switch directions when what was working stops being effective, and substitute a different strategy.
Give yourself credit! Even for those baby steps you take to make progress towards your long-term goal.If getting there wasn’t a challenge, you wouldn’t have had to put so much effort into making it happen. So be your own best cheerleader for what you’ve done, instead of critically focusing on what you haven’t yet accomplished. Hint: Don’t strive for perfection; it’s a set-up for failure!
Get help. It is easier to stay on-track when you have outside ACCOUNTABILITY! Consider working with an accountability partner (preferably, not a spouse or partner) or a supportive coach. I can offer you a terrific online accountability/action group, The TUIT Project, or individual coaching to help you clarify your goals, determine the best strategies to achieve them, and provide support to make this process easier and more successful.
Summary of the Process: Turning Goals Into Reality
Long-Term Goal: “I want to be more financially secure; I will be financially secure.” One Interim Goal: “I will manage my money better!” One Short-Term Goal: “I will cut down on expenses.” One Action Goal: “I will stop eating out almost every night.” One Action Step: “I will check out price options for home delivery of meals.”
SNOW DAYS – For many, it means working from home. Great for avoiding hazardous roads, but when it comes to productivity, there are some built-in hazards you’ll have to negotiate. Remember these three words to make your work-at-home days more successful. WORD #1: Preparation – Yes, follow the Boy Scout credo and be prepared
Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky
Always have a work-related contact list and critical info (passwords, etc.) at home – snow day or not.
If possible, sync your office computer with your phone and laptop or tablet. Don’t depend on being able to access your office computer remotely; the internet may go down in bad weather.
As an extra precaution, print out the contact list and other critical information. (Do this periodically.) It is possible the electric may fail, especially in areas with snow-laden tree branches and exposed wires. You may need the printout to make an emergency call or two. (Keep your cell phone charged and have a spare, charged power source in case it does – consider investing in a solar-powered charger.)
If you have advance warning of the snowstorm, give thought as to what you can work on at home that would be the most productive use of your time.
These may be tasks that will help you finish an important project you are working on now, or a project you’ve been meaning to get to that you haven’t had time for in the office, or it may be a good opportunity to do some planning, away from the urgency and interruptions of office life.
Gather any materials you’ll need to do the work from home. Again, don’t count on being able to remotely access office computers, assuming your company even has that technology available for your use. (Take note, company execs – given this year’s weather, it may be time to review your policies on secure networks and remote access).
WORD #2: Expectation – Be realistic, this is NOT another day at the office There is a limit to what you will be able to accomplish – choose carefully – don’t promise (even yourself) more than you can reasonably deliver. Realize that you WILL have distractions – house chores will call to you (especially if the work you plan on doing is less than fully engaging): “Straighten up … clean … cook … patch the hole in the wall … organize the closet … ” PUT ON THE BLINDERS. If you were at the office, you wouldn’t be tempted. You will probably receive, or have to make, some personal phone calls. This is not a day for chatting, although others who are stuck at home but not working may think it is. Limit the calls, as you would at work, “Hi, how are you? I’m okay, but working… will call you back.” Children – they are home as well, and DO need your attention. Build in time to spend with them – you can’t work a full schedule unless they are older or you have in-home childcare. Take an hour and go out sledding with the children. You can be just as productive – even more productive – for having taken a play break. Then don’t worry if you use the TV or a video to babysit part of the time. Consider a project they can do nearby, while you do yours – have some ideas in advance (Preparation!). WORD #3: Clarity – Know what to do, and when to stop Be VERY specific in terms of what you will work on – the more focused you are, the more productive you’ll be in what could become a very distracting environment. Begin the day with a clear and detailed written outline of what you have decided to accomplish. This helps to maintain a focused work ethic at home (and gets you back on track after external or internal interruptions). Create your own benchmark – have a goal that, when achieved, will make you feel you had a fulfilling stay-at-home workday. Reach your benchmark and STOP WORKING. Celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some tea, laced with rum and spices (I think they call that a hot toddy ).
Magical holidays? Not for everyone. We’re supposed to feel festive… energetic… excited! We’re supposed to look forward to the New Year with anticipation and, well, happiness – it is ‘Happy New Year,’ right? So, why does this time of year create so much stress and anxiety? Why are so many people exhausted, even depressed under their cheery façades?
Since the first step in working through a problem is to recognize, define and accept it, let’s face it – the holiday season CAN be fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Especially this year, with the intense political discord and the many natural disasters. So give yourself a break!
Sure, there are tons of positive things about the holidays, including the window displays, the festivity, the spirituality and the family bonding. But there are also tons of stressors, like the time and effort of preparing for family gatherings, parties, travel arrangements, shopping, the additional expenses, rush to complete work projects, etc.
First it’s the Thanksgiving gathering (if you have people with whom you gather, and if you don’t, you might feel a sense of isolation). Having people over, for the somewhat disorganized, can be a time-consuming quagmire. It isn’t just the meal prep; it’s clearing the paper clutter off the dining table and finding hiding spots for the various piles of stuff. And the traveling doesn’t help – especially if stuck in holiday traffic (I admit it; I’ve skipped family events to avoid a two-hour traffic jam).
Thanksgiving Day immediately segues into the holiday buying frenzy, with its extra expenses and the stress of gift-buying, magnified by the pressure of getting those perfect bargains during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (now week-long, or longer, events). This is further complicated by the anxiety caused by FOMO – fear of missing out, whether it’s the sale of the century or that special party invite. Who has invited you where (and who hasn’t)? How should you reciprocate? What should you wear? And woe if you’ve gained or lost weight and don’t feel attractive in the holiday clothes you have! Even the lack of sunlight can darken the mood of people with a degree of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
Then there are the interpersonal issues. Whether it’s home for the holidays and dealing with complicated family relationships, or the feelings of loss when you think about missing loved ones or the lack of a significant other with whom to share a New Year’s kiss. There is also the double-edged pleasure of having children home from school, especially if you still have to work. And magnify the difficulty if you have children who get easily overwhelmed or overly excited by a disruption of their routine.
On a more subtle note, there’s a sense of judgement. The year is about to end, and what have you accomplished? Sometimes it’s external evaluations at work, which may, or may not, include raises and bonuses. But often it’s an internal sense of “I planned to do more…“. Unfortunately, we tend to dwell more on what we didn’t do than celebrate everything we did accomplish. Like a birthday, the upcoming New Year is a passage, and an opportunity (welcome or not) to pause and look at where we are in life.
I can go on, but now that it’s really clear you have valid reasons to feel Holiday Anxiety Disorder, let’s switch to what we can do differently to have a better, more fulfilling holiday season.
Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’
Many of us dwell in a mental world of how things should be. Relationships are warm, fuzzy and supportive. Money is not a concern. We’re easily able to leap tall buildings, which represents any obstacle, whether preparing a holiday meal or completing a work project early and under budget. Our children are always a joy, and our parents are never a problem. Realistically, we know that’s ridiculous. But there’s a part of us that wants it to be that way, and thinks it should be that way. Until we embrace imperfection and still delight in ourselves and others – despite our failings, and theirs – we’re doomed to feel like failures.
Practice Intentional Rejuvenation
Schedule in ‘ME’ time. Consider it as My Energy; time to recharge. It might mean a massage, distraction-free time to read, draw, play the guitar or go for a walk – whatever recharges your sense of self, so you’ll have more to give to others. If you spend too much time alone, working or taking care of your family, plan get-togethers with friends. Let go of the guilt that comes from having too little time to get things done or take care of others, so you give even less to yourself. As the airlines say, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before you worry about others.’ Keep in mind thatself-care is not the same as ME time. Things like going to the gym are important for self-care, but there aren’t ME time, unless you love going to the gym!
Put Your Health First
Alas, that includes getting enough sleep, eating right, staying hydrated and exercising. These are all critical for real self-care. They take effort, but the payoff is that you’ll have more energy, and feel a lot less stressed. And for those of us with ADHD, depression or anxiety, these have proven, brain-based benefits. Studies show that spending some time in nature, even in winter, helps positivity. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Use natural daylight bulbs. And consider appropriate supplements, like Vitamin D and Omega-3.
Give Yourself Permission
It’s okay to decline an invitation. It’s okay to serve fewer choices at a meal or have less elaborate holiday decorations. And it’s okay to ask for help.
This might be the dollar amount or the number of gifts you’ll purchase. It might mean how much time you’ll spend shopping (maybe the online purchase isn’t as perfect as something you’d pick out in a store, but it’s a lot easier!). Also, consider how you can say no to unacceptable behavior, whether from a child, friend or family member. This also applies to work.Learn to say NO to yourself! Perfectionism destroys productivity. Be realistic in terms of what you can accomplish in a given time, and what you can’t. Have clear priorities and learn to self-advocate.
Write down your frustrations – it’s better than taking them out on others, or yourself. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you have, and what you’ve done. Keep a list of what you can do differently next year, and a reminder of what you’ve done that works. (Don’t count on remembering anything, although do try to remember where you keep your Journal and lists!)
Pause – Breathe – Appreciate
Life is a collection of moments, so capture those moments by being truly present. Mindfulness is a way of staying centered, and when we’re centered in the moment we can’t be disappointed by the past or anxious about the future.
It’s extremely rare when everything works as planned. Stuff happens. Being flexible and building in the expectation that there will be occasional breakdowns and meltdowns makes it easier to deal with them when they (inevitably) happen, and increases the likelihood that your holidays will be successful!
Focus on the Positive
In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™, Step 3 is ‘Believe in Possibility, and that you always have the Power of Choice.’ When you truly believe that you will have a wonderful, fulfilling holiday season, and that the upcoming year will be your best one yet, you dramatically increase the likelihood it will be. Positive thinking is critical to successful action. How we think absolutely affects what we attract in our lives.
Plan for Success
A positive attitude is essential, but achieving goals is more likely when there’s also a plan in place. It’s helpful to have clarity as to goals and priorities, and the steps you’ll take to reach them, whether it’s planning for December 25th, New Year’s Eve or the upcoming year. If you need help with your Success Plan, let me know!
Have the Happiest of Holidays!!! What are your tips to conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder? I’d love to see them, so share them on my blog.
This article may be reposted, only with the following attribution:
Written by Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function & Organization Coach. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions, www.SusanLasky.com. Used with permission.
There is often a collapse in our understanding when it comes to getting things done. We’re taught to believe that if we were really motivated, we would get started on that work project, organize the closet or declutter the entry. We’re told that if we really cared about our family’s health, we would consistently prepare tasty, nutritious meals. We tell ourselves that if we’re not exercising or finishing the online course we started, lack of willpower and poor self-image is to blame. If only we tried harder… Maybe, but not likely.
Activation, unlike motivation, is an executive function skill, also known as Initiation. That means it is brain-based in an area of our brain (the frontal lobes) that may not be as consistently high-performing as we’d like. Especially so for people with ADD / ADHD. This is the area of our brain that is largely responsible for things like organization, time management, prioritization and activation (the ability to get started on something). It is easily overwhelmed by too much to do, confusion as to how to do things, or the dread that comes when a project seems too big or boring to be easily accomplished.
That’s when the protective amygdala— the part of our brain that helps us to manage stress— steps in with its fight, flight or freeze response. So we go into avoidance mode. OK, this is an oversimplification, but it helps us to understand WHY we find that doing some things becomes so challenging that we continually procrastinate, even if we are motivated to get them done.
Just because we’ve decided to do something, doesn’t mean we will actually get it done – despite motivation by desire, rewards or dire consequences. This lack of ability to get going can be both frustrating and scary!Here are eight strategies to help you overcome overwhelm, minimize the avoidance factor, get activated and successfully accomplish your goals.
Stop Identifying Yourself by Failure.Procrastinator. Lack of willpower. Lazy. Unmotivated. Selfish. Inconsiderate. Untrustworthy. These are words that make me want to quit, not put in the effort needed to overcome a brain-based executive function challenge. So recognize that despite the widespread ‘Just do it’ mentality, it’s often necessary to find work-arounds. Let go of the negative self-talk. Accept that you’re having difficulty beginning a task, and instead of being self-critical and judgmental (which accomplishes nothing), be gentle with yourself. You may be anxious about the task, uncertain about how to get it done, uncomfortable about doing it (like calling a company to complain about something), or stuck because you might ‘do it wrong.’ Avoid paralysis by analysis. Often all that’s needed is that first step, which is what activation is about. Identifying what is getting in the way is part of the solution. It’s important to take action despite your feelings, but it helps to understand them. Studies show that you’re 50% more effective if you first get clarity as to why it’s tough to get going, than you’d be if you just push through and try to get it done.
Set Aside Planning Time and Action Time.They are not the same. Planning time is for deciding exactly WHAT you are going to do, and HOW you’ll get it done. It’s the time to determine your priorities and decide WHEN you’ll actually work on your tasks (your Action times). It’s the time to make DECISIONS, so they don’t hold up your progress once you start working. Sometimes we plan to do something without being realistic about how much available time we actually have (the ‘white space’ in our calendars). So when planning, take all of your time commitments into account. And don’t overplan. Activation takes effort, so leave space for recharging, along with time to deal with interruptions, unexpected tasks or spill-overs from tasks that take longer than planned. If you skip Planning time and go directly to Action time, it’s easy to lose focus on what is most important and spend that Action time pursuing any new bright and shiny object (or checking emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). If you haven’t planned very specific tasks for your Action time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options when you are ready to work.
Use your Planning time to gain CLARITY. What are the specific tasks that will enable you to make progress towards your goal? A project is too big to ‘do’ in one sitting, so the thought of ‘doing’ an entire project is overwhelming, resulting in avoidance rather than clarity. It’s easier to activate when there’s something very specific to do, with no conflicting priorities and a set time for starting –and ending– your efforts. It’s the way you solve that proverbial question, “How do you eat an elephant?” (the project you tend to avoid because it’s just too big, scary or unappetizing). How? One bite at a time! Begin by breaking the project into do-able tasks, or individual bites that aren’t too painful to swallow. The smaller you make them, the easier they’ll fit into your busy schedule. Prioritize those tasks (what has to be done before you can move on to the next task?). WRITE DOWN THE STEPS! Then, when you are in Action time, put on your blinders to stay focused on the designated task.
Make the Task more Appealing. How can you turn a need-to, should-do or must-do into a want-to? Same task, different attitude. Even then activation may be difficult, but it’s easier when you see a positive reason for accomplishing a task (even if it’s just to get it over with so it no longer gives you angst!). How can you add a fun element to the task? Some ideas: Do it with a friend, working together or just in parallel play… get out of your home or office and work in a coffee shop or park… upgrade your writing tools with a special pen and appealing notebook… promise yourself a reward for getting the task accomplished (even if it’s just some guilt-free ‘me’ time)… make finishing the task a game… have a giant check-off list, etc. Or try one of my favorites: get to work on it to avoid doing a task that’s even less appealing! Remember the benefit. Write down what you will gain from finishing the task. Keeping the goal in mind can make the work that goes into accomplishing it less onerous.
Think Progress, not Perfection. It’s easier to eat the elephant (work on that task or project) when you feel like it, or when you’re really hungry (deadline anyone?). But that’s a less effective way of ensuring you successfully accomplish your business or personal goals than if you were to commit to taking small, palatable bites every day (consistent effort). Prioritize the bites and keep them small, triumphing over your perfectionistic avoidance tendencies. Consistent small bites get things done!
Take a Short Detour to Gain Momentum. Sitting and staring at a blank screen won’t get that blog written. First, try doing a tiny action, like writing one sentence. This small action will often get you over the inertia hump, so you can continue. But if you find yourself unable to initiate action, take a detour. Do something physical (energizes your body and your mind). Take a short nature break (relaxes the anxiety and provides a feeling of well-being you can take back to your desk). Call a positive friend and make plans to do something fun. Listen to music that energizes and helps you stay focused. Make sure you eat and drink (dehydration contributes to brain fog). If you take medication, check that you’ve taken it. If you need ten minutes of down time, take it – even if it’s to check your social media or email (be safe and set a STOP alarm!). Remind yourself of your commitment to get to your Action task, and then, refreshed, get back to work.
Be Aware of Transition Trauma. Sometimes it’s hard to stop one activity to begin another. Our brains just don’t want to make the switch. Be clear as to what you plan to do when. Write it on your Daily Action List. Put it in your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Use alarms to define your Action times and alert you that it’s time to begin (activate). Get up and move between activities so you can clear the Zombie-like focus, or hyperfocus, from a previous task (or from that computer solitaire marathon session).
Find an Accountability Partner. When someone else cares whether we’ve accomplished what we said we would, we’re more likely to get it done. This is often difficult when you work alone. Just as it’s easier to get to the gym when you go with a friend, it’s easier to get activated and work towards your goals when there are others who are supportive of your efforts and cheerleaders for overcoming your challenges. Share with a non-judgmental friend, join a mastermind group, consider the benefits of individual coaching, or join a group like my TUIT Project, which is designed to provide support and accountability. A new online group begins each month—visit OvercomeOverwhelm.com.
Also consider thebenefits of individual coaching. Contact Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions to discuss how coaching could help you move forward and have a less stressful, more fulfilling life. Susan is based in Westchester, but works virtually anywhere. She can be reached at 914-373-4787 or Susan@SusanLasky.com. You can schedule a convenient, no-cost or obligation Initial Consult at https://SusanLasky.AcuityScheduling.com.
Frustrated by the gap between knowing what you should/want/need to get done and the reality of what you are actually accomplishing? For many people, this is a chronic struggle – especially those with ADD/ADHD/EF (executive function) challenges, myself included! Even when we are at the top of our game there’s still a backlog that can approach critical mass. Do you wonder what the top of your game would be if you could be more Nike™-like and ‘Just Do It.’ Fortunately, there ARE strategies that help, and here are a few:
Begin with Clarity– Know exactly what you plan to do AND why you want to do it. Maybe it’s because you need to get something done, but by phrasing it as something you want (even if the reason is to keep your job, pass a course or stay on speaking terms with your partner), it becomes your CHOICE, and our motivational circuits work a lot better when we choose to do something. So convert your ‘have-to’s’ ‘must-do’s’ and ‘need-to’s’ to ‘WANT-TO’s.’
Confusion by Susan Lasky
Think ‘Task’ NOT ‘Project’ – Often, what we want to do is too big to accomplish in a single sitting, leading to a feeling of overwhelm. For many of us, overwhelm is a trigger to shutting down and doing less, rather than ‘attacking’ the project to successfully accomplish it. Our brain perceives the situation as threatening, and shifts into the protective ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, which doesn’t help with getting things done.
Avoid overwhelm by identifying the PROJECT (it might be to redo the files, create a newsletter, plan a vacation, organize the closet, write the thesis, ‘do’ the taxes). Whatever it is, break it down into the multiple small steps (TASKS) that are needed to complete the project.
The first task of any project is to create a written Project Sheet that specifies everything you’ll need to get it done, from resources needed (information, people, money, tools) to a step-by-step breakdown of each action, with approximations of the time you’ll need for each step – then double it (or more). Reinforce the steps by writing them down and saying them out loud. Keep the Project Sheet where you can easily refer back to it. (Think weekly and daily planning/review sessions, which take time but totally save you hours!)
Set a Conscious Intention (Commitment) – Once you are clear about WHAT you will do, decide WHEN you’ll get it done – PRIORITIZE. Put each step in your calendar or planner as a Task-Appointment, which is an appointment with yourself to work on a specific task at a specific time.
Saying ‘yes’ without saying ‘when’ is a typical precursor to not getting things done. Consider posting a reminder with the specific task you have prioritized, in a place that will draw your attention back to it when it begins to wander (and accept that it will wander!). You might want to expand your declared focus to prioritize an entire day or a week, “This week I will finish …” This doesn’t mean you won’t do other things, but it helps to swing you back to your key priority when your attention drifts or your interest wanes.
Make it Do-Able – It often helps to set a timer for a short amount of time so you don’t feel ‘trapped.’ It is easier to start something if you know you only have to stay focused on it for 20 minutes (or 15… or 10!). If you don’t complete the task within the time you’ve allotted, that’s okay. Congratulate yourself for having done what you said you would, then set additional Task-Appointments to finish what you’ve successfully begun. Take breaks between scheduled appointments. Some people find background music makes it easier to stay focused (volume and genre do matter!).
Minimize Distractions – Put on your blinders and resist temptation by making it less intrusive. Turn off email notifications, and even the phone if possible. Put a sign on your door that you will be available at 3:30 (or whenever), to minimize interruptions. Use a chalk or white board so visitors can leave messages. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt from the other projects that need your attention, so you can successfully focus on one at a time. (I’m a brilliant multi-tasker, as long as I only work on one task at a time!)
We can’t quite turn off our brain (although a few minutes of mindful focus before you begin the work can help), so keep a ‘parking lot’ handy – a place to write down the thoughts that pop up and can compromise your focus. You don’t want to forget to make that call, send an email, pick up the dry cleaning, order a replacement phone charger, etc., and these are the things that will often pop into your mind while doing something else. You will think about it, so capture these thoughts in writing or tell it to Siri, OK Google, Alexa or your phone companion. Then you don’t need to shift your attention away from your project in order to remember to do it.
Start Small – When you are REALLY stuck, just open the notebook or computer file and look at the page or screen. Then put your pen to paper or fingers to keypad. They may start moving of their own volition. If not, commit to writing just one sentence, which often opens the gateway to moving forward. Or pull out a folder and skim the papers. Or make a list of what you think you should be doing. It’s the ACTIVATION that’s so difficult. Sometimes, all it takes is a minimal start to trigger our brains to become involved with something we’ve been avoiding. And remember how good it feels to get something done!
Take Breaks & Make Time for Self-Care – Avoid ‘overbooking.’ Often, less IS more. Leave ‘white space’ in your day. Especially when you have things to do in the evening or over the weekend. Leave time between Task-Appointments (if you work for 20 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then a longer break every two hours or so). Get up and MOVE (keeps the energy flowing). This is easy to forget when in hyper-focus mode, where we can work for hours on something because we are so caught up in it. Try to remember the law of diminishing returns (and ask yourself what is not getting done that is also important.
Take care of yourself! SELF-CARE is often the first thing to go when we feel there is too much to do.
Stop and Smell the Flowers by Susan Lasky
Yet self-care provides the physical AND mental energy to accomplish more. Think about it – how much more cognitively alert and productive are you after a good night’s SLEEP? Multiple studies are showing that our body and brain use sleep as a time to recharge, including eliminating toxins, so it isn’t, as many feel, a ‘necessary evil,’ but part of the productive process.
We know that EXERCISE boosts our body chemistry so we are more functional (and ofter a lot less ‘hyper’ or ‘antsy’). So fit some version of it into your schedule (again, less is often more if it means you’ll actually do it – sometimes our exercise goals may be somewhat unrealistic). DRINK a lot of water (hydrate). SNACK on fruit or have a protein shake. A quick NAP or MEDITATION can be super-restorative. Science is proving that time spent OUTSIDE in greenery can dramatically enhance our mood. (The Japanese even have a concept for this called ‘Forest Bathing.’) Yet when we feel ‘behind,’ as is so typical, we deny ourselves these self-care actions that boost our brain chemistry and pay us back with increased focus and productivity.
We NEED and DESERVE to ENJOY ourselves. Take a break to play with your kids or your dog (laughter totally energizes). Pet the cat and let the purring calm your brainwaves. Allow yourself time to garden, paint, create music or anything that comforts your soul. Have lunch with friends or make some private time with your partner, and you’ll usually get MORE done – and feel less deprived or annoyed by having to do the work in the first place!
Accountability Helps – Don’t try to go it alone. Report your progress to a non-judgmental accountability-partner, whether a friend, family member or coach, or consider joining an Accountability Group. (Check out my Get Around TUIT online action group at www.OvercomeOverwhelm.com)
Here’s an accountability strategy that is especially appealing to the tech-savvy. I ask some of my coaching clients to take a photo of their progress and text it to me. It might be a completed page in their planner, homework assignment or business plan, an organized desktop, newly labeled files or an emptied suitcase from last month’s trip – whatever supports their intention at the end of our last coaching session. If they said they would join a study group, go to the library or attend a networking event, I ask for an on-location ‘selfie.’ The photo is fun, helps them to feel more motivated and gives ‘instant’ feedback as to a job well done – not from me, but from their camera 🙂 It is a testament to their success! You can use this accountability strategy with yourself or a friend.
Commit to a Daily Action Plan, which is different than your 50-page ‘To-Do’ list. It has space for just your 3 primary actions and, if you finish those, 3 secondary activities. If you want to check out my Daily Focus form, you can download it here.
Be a Detective – The best strategies may not work for you, or may work for only a short time (so frustrating, but that’s reality). It is okay to acknowledge you are stuck. Maybe you need new tools, techniques or strategies, or just to tweak the ones you’ve been using. Perhaps you would benefit from a greater understanding of how to do something – a workable office requires an understanding of functional organization, and systems that work with the way YOU think – especially for those of us who are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinkers. Maybe you’ve been struggling with writing papers because you never really mastered the process from a technical perspective (organization, time and project management and keeping a check on perfectionism!). Perhaps you would benefit from a better system for managing your emails or running meetings.
So now, imagine that you’re solving your problem, but for a friend or colleague. When we take the emotional component out of the equation, it’s often easier to come up with a workable solution. Things can be different, but how to effect successful change? (Step #3 in my PowerPlan to Success: Believe in Possibility, and that you always have a Choice.) Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know, and help is needed.
You may benefit from hands-on advice, situational coaching, or exploring the underlying causes that create or compound your challenges. These can include emotional issues, physical problems, learning disabilities, and executive function or attention disorders that can get in the way of success (and here you wasted so much energy blaming yourself for lack of willpower!). Perhaps you struggle with perfectionism, are overly self-critical, feel the work you do isn’t ‘good enough,’ or subconsciously sabotage your success. Remember that it shows strength to work with a consultant, organizer, tutor, coach or therapist to get at the roots of these chronic challenges.
Be Kind to Yourself … Please!!! That’s the most important thing I can leave you with. Studies show that the more you accept yourself, the more productive – and happier – you’ll be!
I’m curious. What do YOU find helps to get things done?