Stop Feeling Overwhelmed with This One Productivity Hack

August 1, 2016

1:24 pm

As you build your companies, your careers, your families, your communities, and yourselves, you will at one point or another find yourself overwhelmed. We see it in the startup world often, but the advice is usually to hustle more, put in more hours, or suck it up. Too often, we see founders implode.

In one of my weekly “challenge” emails to our team, I asked what type of training they thought they would benefit from the most. Time management was the most common theme in their responses. So, I went searching for time management courses…and I found very little of substance.

I then started asking around for a suitable framework; here’s what has changed the way I manage my life and freed my mind to focus on the things that really matter.

Focus Is Key

The following tip came from my business coach when I was having an especially difficult week. I knew I had to get a lot done, but was so overwhelmed I felt like I was running in circles. I received one simple tip on how to stay focused but still get it all done without working harder: get a notebook. But, here’s the catch: you can only use one notebook at a time. You’re not allowed to take notes anywhere else.

Most of us have some level of ADD, and our multiple devices, apps, and social media has only made life more distracting. (And, when your monkey brain sees a squirrel – well, you know what happens). In order to quiet the monkey brain and corral the squirrels, use this simple system to help you focus.

When working on a given task or appointment, the inevitable stray thought or idea will pop in your head. When that happens, write it down on a list in your notebook, but do not get distracted by it. Keep focusing on the task you are doing. Once you get to the end of your allotted time on that particular task, you’ll probably have a decent list of squirrels.

From there, you have to do, delegate, or delete.

Do, Delegate or Delete scheduling

Choose whether to schedule time to do it, delegate it, or let it go. You’ll start to get really honest about what to say “no” to and what needs to be delegated (admittedly, two things we entrepreneurs can have trouble with). While you’re deciding which column each task falls under, make sure not to do any of the items you’re scheduling. The goal is to manage your list.

Once you have a set time aside for each of those squirrels or you’ve delegated those things, then you no longer have to worry about or feel overwhelmed by them – everything has a place. And as you schedule time in your calendar for every additional thing, simply mark a line through it.

The Quick, Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s the quick step-by-step summary for managing your time to free your mind:

  1. Use a great calendar and stick to it (google calendar works for me);
  2. Use one notebook to write down thoughts that pop into your head while you’re focusing on the task at hand. This becomes your to-do, -delegate, or -delete list;
  3. When scheduled time is up or the task is done – schedule, delegate or delete everything on your list. Take the list of things to schedule and determine the 20 percent that will lead to 80 percent of your results. Then, decide: which of these few items is the most urgent?;
  4. Schedule and work on that until it is either a) done or b) something else has become important (like your next appointment);
  5. Make time in your schedule to go through your squirrel lists (10 minutes every 2 hours works for me); and
  6. Don’t forget to schedule time for you; to think, exercise, do nothing, spend time with family and friends, or whatever you want your life to be about. Because if you don’t prioritize you, no one else will.

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Gabriella is founder and CEO of Tech Wildcatters and Purveyor of The Gauntlet. She believes in data driven decisions and early stage companies. When not thinking about how to better help entrepreneurs or running regression analyses, you can find her kiteboarding, paddleboarding, or pursuing her couple goal (with hubby Peter) of working out in a gym in every country in the world.

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