Your fingers are typing, your eyes are scanning, your mind is racing.
Despite your impressive speed, you’re barely making a dent in that ever-expanding task list.
You push on. More gets added. “No worries,” you think, “You got this.”
Except that you’re constantly short on time, forever exhausted and you promise yourself that as soon as you finish that next “thing”, you’ll get a handle on this out-of-control hamster wheel. You may even take time off!
Until the next week. Where it’s more of the same.
And the following.
And the one after that.
And the cycle continues.
Although there are times when it is necessary to go heads-down and push through to get unstuck, it shouldn’t be that way all the time. That feeling of “survival” is draining, and our bodies are not a fan. Soon enough, you’ll start experiencing physical and psychological symptoms of “keeping on keeping on.”
So what do you do when it seems that Calm has just walked out of your life leaving behind only Chaos?
Start with Accountability
At Corgibytes, we have a core value called Calm the Chaos, where we encourage everyone to “resist the temptation of an urgency-based culture by focusing on prevention instead of hot-fixes, prioritizing self-care, and developing a steady working rhythm.”
AKA: We love you, Corgis, don’t burn yourselves out!
On the surface, they may seem like only words on our website. So many businesses have core values that are really page fillers and wall decorations.
Here, though, we’ve declared them as core values, expect everyone to at least try to abide by them, and we’ve given everyone on the team permission to call each other out when we’re not doing it (in a kind way of course – another core value is Act with Empathy after all!). And we do.
Stop to Re-evaluate Your Priorities
It is essential to take the time to stop and think. Trying to re-evaluate priorities on the fly is risky. As tempting as it is to juggle all the things as the days unfold, the lack of intentionality means that there is no real strategy behind the actions.
Just because something suddenly becomes a task doesn’t mean it should be done first, or this year, or by you, or at all.
Block maybe an hour in your schedule to review your list.
Before jumping in and reorganizing everything, ask yourself:
- What specific area needs your attention the most this month?
- What activities must happen this week to get this month’s activities completed?
- What activities must happen today to get this week’s activities completed?
With that information in mind, review your task list. Mark all tasks directly related to this most important area as priority 1.
Schedule Your Priority One Tasks
Having identified your priority 1 tasks – the real needle movers – you must schedule them into your calendar. Yes, must. Because your time will get gobbled up in other ways if you don’t.
Literally block time in your calendar to accomplish these tasks. If there is documentation associated with these tasks such as a spreadsheet or a pdf, add the link to those in the notes section of the task. That way, when the time comes to start on that task, you’re not wasting it looking for what you need.
These priority 1 tasks become your non-negotiables. Everything else gets scheduled around those.
If you’re using a task list manager, go even as far as adding the date and time it is planned for.
Scheduling Your Other Tasks
You have your priority 1 tasks. How do you determine what comes next? By using the same process with one variation.
Instead of asking what specific area needs your attention the most this month, ask yourself: “Once this area has been successfully completed, what is the next area that needs my attention the most?” It may be something new or it may be activities that will set up the priority 1 tasks of the next month.
These now become your priority 2 tasks. And you place those in your schedule. Around your priority 1 tasks.
And the process continues with all tasks.
What About Conflicts?
Remember when I said some tasks may not need to get done by you or at all?
As you’re scheduling, thinking about the importance of the task, there will be times when two things must happen and they both have a priority 1.
Ask yourself whether it really, truly needs to get done. Have a second glance and try to defend eliminating it. What are the consequences? Does it still need to get done?
No? Consider eliminating it.
Yes? Ask yourself whether the deadline can be pushed back to a later date.
If it can be pushed back, schedule it when there’s more time in the calendar. And if you need to reschedule other tasks to make room for the priority 1s, remember to start with the lowest priorities first.
Now, if it can’t be pushed back, think about whether someone else could help you by accomplishing this task.
No one can do this by themselves? Then, try and see if it could be broken up and divided to be completed as a group.
In the end, if, even with the best planning and scheduling, you’re still finding yourself constantly overwhelmed by conflicting tasks, with too many priority 1s, it may be a symptom of a bigger problem:
- You may have a schedule that is too aggressive.
- You may have a scope that is too ambitious.
- You may be short on resources.
Plan for Chaos
As we all know, life happens. And sometimes things get tossed at us that weren’t even on the horizon. That’s why it really helps to plan for “chaos”. Maybe an hour per day in the schedule ready to take on whatever surprise pops up.
If that time doesn’t get scooped up – which is rare – just continue advancing priority 1 tasks.
Also, make sure to plan for breaks between those tasks. Personally, I like a ten-minute stretch break every 60-90 minutes. But find the rhythm that is right for you.
By putting more intentionality in how your days unfold, it should help focus your work on what really matters, which will yield better progress and maybe, just maybe, Chaos will be the one walking out the door leaving you alone with Calm.