We all have too much to do. When I talk with friends and colleagues, the number one thing I hear is how over worked, over scheduled, and overwhelmed everyone feels. We could add to the list over tired and maybe overweight. What is with all the “overs?” Do you know anyone who doesn’t have enough to do? How did we get like this? Almost everyone I know works really hard. Why is it not enough?
It seems to be true that the world expects more of us these days. There are certainly pressures from others- bosses, coworkers, spouses, and even children. Society and media certainly have a role in telling us what we should do..or look like.. or be. If you are like me, I suspect that an awful lot of the pressure you feel is self inflicted. It is a hazard of being an achiever. Or an over achiever. I’ve thought a lot about this as I’ve undertaken my life redesign journey. What to do about too much to do?
Here are 3 ideas.
1. Look at your planner
Hear me out. Yes, I know this is obvious. You have a planner. You may be like me and have lists of your lists. But do you have the right planner? Like many of you, when I got an iPad, I gave up my paper planner and went electronic. I use the calendar and notes and reminders, and I love it that everything syncs with my phone.
I tried several apps. I liked Cozi for a while and it is a nice app, especially if you want to coordinate your family’s schedules. I just wasn’t loving it. I tried Things, which has a feature that lets you organize and sort by project. I love a good project organization tool. The app was great, but for some reason I still found myself sorting projects into folders. I actually went out and bought some beautiful, decorated file folders and added matching labels. I found myself using the file folders more and the app less. It seemed unnecessary and wasteful to return to outdated technology such as file folders, however pretty they were.
And gradually, my desk was a mess. I started writing little paper notes with things to do, grocery lists, you name it. I had sticky notes everywhere! I had sticky notes to remind me of my other sticky notes. Seriously, I should buy stock in 3M. It was ridiculous. I was constantly looking for something I had written on one of my little notes and in the meantime, not getting to the task at hand.
I was at Target shortly after the new year and saw their end cap full of planners. In a brilliant marketing ploy, along with the planners were multi- packs of brightly colored felt pens. I wanted to walk by; I didn’t need a planner; I have an iPad! I have lots of pens! I have two mugs full of colored pencils on my desk that I rarely use, but love to look at.
And of course, I bought a planner… and the pens. I realized that I love paper and I craved the aesthetic feel of a physical notebook. I love using different colors for different kinds of tasks. I love that it adds a bit of something pretty to a routine task. Suddenly all my little piles of notes and lists were gone, compiled neatly in one place. I no longer had to spend time figuring out what I was supposed to be doing.
The electronic tools I used to organize my life, while extremely serviceable, just weren’t appealing to my need for beauty. You might prefer to eliminate all the paper for your electronics. If so, I get it, good for you. What seems important here is that if you have to spend more than five minutes figuring out what it is you need to be doing, you need to rethink your system.
2. Look at your file storage
Electronic file storage is genius. I started using it when a colleague sent me a Google Doc so that we could collaborate. Then a committee I was on began using Dropbox. I got a digital microphone pen and it required Evernote. Then my new iPhone saved everything to iCloud. I loved that I could access documents from anywhere and from my office computer, or laptop at home or my iPad.
A funny thing happened on my way to electronic organization. I could find a thing! I couldn’t keep straight which documents were in which place. I lost passwords and got confused about which accounts had been created with my various work and home e-mail addresses. It is very nice to be able to access your documents unless you can’t get into your sites. I discovered that I had three different Dropbox accounts! How did that even happen? Don’t even get me started on the dozens of flash drives I possess. Recently, I needed to access a document that I created ten years ago. I discovered, to my horror, that it was saved on a 3×5 disc. I didn’t even possess a device that could read a floppy disk.
I was losing valuable work time and getting frustrated finding the documents I needed. It was time to simply. I chose one account and moved my files. It’s amazing how putting my electronic life in order saves time and allows me to get more done.
3. Get real about your priorities
I mentioned that our over busyness is often the result of self inflicted “obligations” and our lists of things we “should” do. When I moved, I started to see the pattern of self imposed work I had been carrying with me, both literally and figuratively, for years. I found a needlework picture that I had started making when I was pregnant. I kept it because I felt I should finish it, even though my daughter is grown and the nursery I made it for is now distant memory. That’s a long time to carry around a “should” do. I also found empty photo albums, scrapbooking supplies and about 200 photos from a trip to Ecuador in 2008. I should put the photos into the book. Yes, I loved my trip and have amazing memories, but I need to take the unfinished photo album off my mental to do list. It is just not a priority or I would have done it years ago.
It isn’t just those big unfinished projects, little self inflicted obligations get put on our lists as well. For example, I planned on posting this blog yesterday. It didn’t happen. I could feel stress for not finishing something on my to do list, but then I realize that I am the only one laying awake at night worrying that I didn’t get my blog posted. What self imposed obligations are filling up your life? No time to get groceries today? The kids won’t starve if they have a can of tomato soup for dinner.
I have started to ask myself one question every morning. What is really important about today? I let the rest go. Ultimately, what gets done is the important stuff.
If you want to think about how much you get done in a day, know that important is better than more. It is not how much we get done that matters, but how much of what matters we get done.