When you feel stretched too thin at work, it’s miserable.
You feel behind, you lose focus, and you might get annoyed whenever someone asks you for something, even it it’s a completely reasonable request.
The reality is that there will always be more to do than you can get done.
So how do you get out from under that pile of have-to’s and actually finish your work?
You need to take something off your plate, but that’s easier said than done.
Here are my best secrets for ditching overwhelm and making the most of your time.
Throw Out Your To-Do List
At times when you’ve been really busy, you’ve probably reached for a pad of paper and a pen—or an app on your phone—and written out a to-do list.
It feels like you’re being responsible and efficient, right?
But what happens when you look at that long list? Do you get a bit paralyzed?
This happens to so many of my clients. They write down all the tasks they need to accomplish, the meetings they need to attend, the people they need to follow-up with, and they feel hopeless when they see the long list.
Then, when the week ends and they’re nowhere near the end of the list, they feel even worse!
A to-do list doesn’t solve the problem because it’s still asking you to focus on a whole laundry list of tasks.
The feeling of being stretched too thin comes from a lack of focus. A to-do list only makes this problem worse.
Stop staring at all the possible things you could do and start figuring out what you should do.
Define Your Priorities
The first step in getting control of your time is to come up with prioritizing principles. You can’t do everything, so you have to have a way to determine what is worth spending your time on and what’s not.
What’s really essential to your job? To your success at your job? To your performance at your job?
Maybe you’ve seen the matrix that plots important things against urgent things. This can be super helpful in prioritizing what to work on. The challenge—as I’m sure you’d agree—is in determining what’s actually important.
It’s not as simple as creating a to-do list. It’s really about figuring out WHY you put items on your to-do list in the first place.
If you want to figure out what you should do, you need to understand why you’re doing it. That isn’t as easy as it sounds.
We all have unconscious attachments that make us prioritize the wrong things or try to take on too much at once. This is exactly what leads to us feeling overwhelmed and unhappy.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- You accept every meeting invite, because you’re afraid of what your boss, your co-workers, or your staff will think of you if you don’t.
- You find yourself taking on a project because you don’t think anyone else can do it as well as you can.
- You find yourself slaving away at a task, but have a nagging feeling that it’s below your paygrade.
- You find your perfectionism is creating a ton of extra work, not to mention getting in the way of the next important thing you should be working on.
If you see yourself in any of those situations, you’re not alone. But you are setting yourself up for overwhelm.
Learn to Say No
One simple way you can stop being stretched too thin is if you learn to say “No.”
Warren Buffett, arguably one of the most successful people alive today, once said,
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘No’ to almost everything.”
They only say “Yes” to what matters. Learning to say “No” to things that are emptying your tank leaves you free to say “Yes” to the things that fill it up.
Say “No” to…
- Working on things too long.
- Perfectionism (I like to say B- work is OK, then move on).
- Doing it all. Let your team learn to do the work while you guide them.
TRY THIS: The easiest way to learn to say “No” is to come up with a list of standard excuses that you practice until they just roll off your tongue. The harder way, but one that is ultimately the most effective, is to learn how to say “No” and not provide an excuse at all. I’m sure this is what Warren Buffett and other highly successful people do.
Kiss “Stretched Too Thin” Goodbye
The only way you’ll feel less overwhelmed is to develop a system for how to prioritize, delegate and stay focused on what matters.
This involves figuring out what’s essential to you versus what you think other people want. You will experience Post-Traumatic Restriction Disorder. I’ll be the first to tell you this happened to me! Once you start saying “No” and stop doing it all, you may feel guilt, anxiety, left out, or other negative emotions.
Be OK with these feelings. I can tell you from experience that they will pass! You may actually start to feel the joy of missing out, or JOMO, once you realize how you’re no longer stretched too thin and you’re accomplishing your goals.
Eventually, you’ll feel so much better because your choices about how you spend your time will be based on your values, rather than on your fears or anxieties.
As you transition, it’s helpful to keep some reminders handy. Come up with a set of principles you can rely on:
- This is what I’m doing and why.
- This is the cost of disrupting my time.
- This is who will lose if I don’t stay focused.
Keep your WHY’s handy so that you can easily say “No” to things that would take you off task.
Coming up with prioritizing principles that aren’t based on fear will help you to figure out what’s actually important.
Need help sorting through all the noise to find your prioritizing principles?
I kind of geek out on helping clients get organized with their time. Schedule your free strategy session and take the first step toward taking control of your time.