This blog post is adapted from my podcast, Crazy Busy. If you prefer listening, tune in here:
“So, how was your day?” is a question that can feel extra loaded if you’ve had a bad one. And if you’ve had a bad week, or a bad couple months? Yikes. You try to respond without being a downer, but the truth is you’re overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s ruining your confidence and your enjoyment of work.
When I come into companies and ask people what a good day looks like for them, most people don’t know. They’ve been letting them happen randomly, instead of planning for it. If you’ve been feeling frazzled and exhausted more days than not, it’s time to up your game. It may not be possible to make every day “a good day” but it is possible to significantly up your ratio of good days to bad days with a little planning.
Why You Feel Frazzled
Back to back meetings, focusing only on what’s urgent and not what’s important, and not having any breaks throughout your day are likely reasons you’re feeling frazzled. Those are things I’m speaking about later on in the season of Crazy Busy, my podcast. But the biggest culprit I see that leads to overwhelm is having a never ending to-do list instead of a true plan.
Sitting in front of a pile of work that you’re just trying to get through rather than apply your creativity, collaboration and strategic thinking to is what I call a factory mentality. If you’ve found yourself getting stuck in the mindset of “just get it done” you aren’t maximizing your life and you aren’t connected to the true joy of doing good work.
Before we have the space to even consider tackling work joyfully, however, we need to get organized.
Step 1: Set up a Weekly Master List
List down all the tasks that you can think of. It doesn't matter what they are, just keep listing. It won’t just be tasks for this week at first, it will be everything that’s on your mind. Once you are done, underline any projects that you have on your list.
A big piece of overwhelm comes from looking at projects rather than tasks. For example, creating a website is a project, not a task.
You’ll probably find that you have one or more projects on your list, and when you do, you have to take them into step #2.
Step 2: “Chunk” Your Projects
“Chunking” is when you compartmentalize a bigger task into small manageable tasks. So, check out each of the underlined projects that you have and break it into chunks. So your “Create Website” project might turn into a list of actual tasks like, Research websites I like and make notes on why I like them, Decide what tabs I want to go on my website, Get recommendations on website designers, etc.
Then, put these tasks onto your master list so you can organize them.
Step 3: Do Reverse Engineering
Take a look at the list that you've made and determine what your A, B, and C priorities are. To do this, take a highlighter and highlight everything that doesn't need to get done this week. You can come back to them when you plan the following week.
The items left will become your “A” priorities, you should only have 15-20 of them. That’s what is realistic to get done in a week if you’re working on juicy 60-90 minute tasks. The items that can wait a week are your “B” priorities. Finally, the items that are important but not urgent are your “C” priorities, which usually have something to do with educating yourself, keeping yourself sharp and on your game, and competitively up to speed, like watching a training. The way I do it is to have all my C’s in a folder and if I finish with my A’s early in the day, I can reward myself with a little professional development.
Step 4: Calendar Your Priorities
Now, schedule your A priorities on all your calendars. Really commit and make appointments with yourself and share them with your co-workers. This will help everyone know what you’re working on and when you are truly available.
Remember, meetings at your company are one of your tasks for the day! You can’t expect to be in meetings all day and also get 3-5 tasks done. Remember to not overextend yourself. If you get into a cycle of over-promising and under-delivering, it will put you into stress. When you put yourself into stress, you’re triggering the amygdala and going into fight, flight, freeze or fawn. This is a brain state that makes it much harder to make good decisions and even compromises your immune system when you’re in it too long.
If you have more work than you can fit into a week, then renegotiate. Communicate your needs and plans to the people it affects and decide together what the priority is and what can be pushed back. Renegotiation is very important as it shows that you are organized, deliberate and on purpose, versus letting something slide and hoping it will all get done.
It’s up to you to stop the crazy busy cycle in your work life - and I know if you put these planning tips into practice, you’ll start feeling the benefits and never want to go back to your never ending to-do list.
So, What Does a Good Day Look Like?
A good day is when you’ve done what you’ve planned to do and you feel clear on your plan moving forward. You haven’t overloaded yourself, but are accomplishing your tasks with focus and creativity. You have energy at the end of the day to see friends, or make dinner, or go for a walk. You feel confident about disconnecting until the morning and show back up to work refreshed.
It may sound like a dream right now, but any step in the right direction is a win for you and your company.
For more tips on leaving crazy busy behind, subscribe to my newsletter.