High achievers often face the problem of taking on too much. Their productivity causes these otherwise worthy individuals to create longer and more involved to-do lists than the rest of us. Many people ensure that they’ll never get to the end of their list by continuously adding more tasks after accomplishing just a few.
This kind of approach to managing your to-do list is fraught with problems. It is both rewarding and appropriate when you cross off everything on your list and feel satisfied about your achievements. When you’re able to finish your lists two to four times a week, you actually come back to work each morning with more energy, focus, and direction.
Completions Yield Satisfaction
Conversely, when you perpetually leave the office with unfinished tasks on that day’s to-do list, you engender a situation in which you never quite feel satisfied, and you find yourself in a perpetual striving mode. In the short run, it’s okay to leave unfinished tasks, especially when you’re on a specific campaign or project. In the long run, however, continuously overextending your daily to-do list can have a harmful, discouraging effect on your life.
It’s understandable that ambitious trainers and educators want to achieve as much as they can and, if employed by others, desire to greatly benefit their organization. If you’re not careful, however, and you attempt to accomplish one major task after another instead of alternating large and small tasks, your productivity will suffer, because trying to tackle one major task after another can be mind numbing.
Start choosing to tackle a handful of key tasks in a given day, alternating them with some minor tasks so you can maintain a fairly high level of energy and allow yourself to leave the workplace with a sense of completion. You’ll work more effectively the next day, as well as throughout the course of your week, month, year, and career.
Slow Down Your Day
You can slow down time if you choose. How? Whenever you feel you're racing the clock or trying to tackle too much at once, try this exercise:
Close your eyes for a minute and imagine a pleasant scene. You might be surrounded by trees or with a loved one. It could be something from childhood. Let the emotions of that place and time pervade you. Get into it! Give yourself more than a short moment for the visualization to take hold.
Open your eyes and return to what you're doing. In my experience, after doing this exercise, whatever task I’m working on is not quite so bad, and the pace I work at becomes less feverish.
Pause and Reflect
Imagine you're flying on an airplane. You have a window seat, and it's a clear day. As you gaze down to the ground below, what do you see? Life passing by. Cars the size of ants. Miniature baseball diamonds. Rivers the size of streams. There's something about being at great heights that enables you to reflect on life. The same phenomenon can take place from the top of a mountain or skyscraper. When practical things seem to be racing by too fast, seek a bit of distance for a clearer perspective.
After the workday, listen to relaxing music with headphones, and close your eyes. A half hour of your favorite music with no disturbances can seem almost endless. When you re-emerge, the rest of the day takes on a different tenor.
An effective method for slowing down time and catching up with today is periodically deleting three items from your to-do list without doing them at all. Before you shriek, consider that any list can benefit from prioritization, and that means removing items that aren’t worth your time and energy. In most cases, eliminating three items won't affect your career or life, except for freeing up a little time for yourself in the present.
Play Around a Little
I have long used water to reduce stress. For 11 years, I lived in a high-rise condominium in Falls Church, Virginia, complete with its own 25-meter pool. No matter how hard I worked during the day, even if I did a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. stint, at 6:05 p.m. I was in the pool. After 30 minutes of laps, I had swum out many of the stresses and strains of the day. Find the swimming hole nearest you, or a regular exercise routine that gives you a similar sense of release.
Playing with your dog or cat can also release stress and make you more ready for the next day. Over and over, scientists have found proof for what was only once suspected: Contact with animals has specific and measurable effects on your body and mind. The mere presence of animals can increase a sick person's chances of survival, and has been shown to lower heart rate, calm disturbed children, and induce incommunicative people to initiate conversation.
The exact mechanisms behind this effect are still largely mysterious. Scientists suspect that animal companionship is beneficial because, unlike human interaction, it is uncomplicated. Animals are nonjudgmental, accepting, and attentive; they don't talk back, criticize, or give orders. Animals have a unique capacity to draw people out.
Even if you only have goldfish, sometimes simply staring at them in their silent world can help deaden your hectic pace.
Ideas for Catching Up With Today: The 10 Cs
Here are ways to gain composure and find some relaxation during your day:
- Constantly read your list of priorities and goals.
- Challenge and defeat your own ritual behavior.
- Consider the outcome of not handling something.
- Convincingly, but politely, say no.
- Call rather than visit.
- Clear your desk of all but the task at hand.
- Clear your files of everything that can be recycled.
- Cancel something you scheduled in your appointment book.
- Choose from what you already have.
- Choose to get a good night's sleep every night.
When you consider all the ways you add unnecessary pressures to your day, you begin to see many ways to catch up with today