Content originally taken from eBella Magazine, “Stop Kidding Yourself” by Kelly Townsend
You need to get more organized, don’t you? The sheer onslaught of incoming information — e-mail, voice mail, phone calls, mail, faxes, people walking up and wanting your attention while you’re doing something important —is so overwhelming that our standard answer to, “What’s going on?” has become, “Don’t ask!”
The speed, complexity and volume of work in today’s world is exponentially greater than even just a few years ago. Yet the time management tools most of us use to get organized were created when people handled everything with a physical inbox and outbox on their desks. That’s when people didn’t take work home, no one had cell phones and the 24-hour world of cyber-communication was science fiction.
While those simpler days are over, some of the fundamental assumptions of the past still govern our daily work practices. The primary one is that you have some chance of ‘getting it all done’. You tell yourself, ‘If I work a little harder, later and a little smarter, I’ll get it ALL done.’ Then you can relax. Or at least take a breath before the next thing happens.
The fact is, getting it all done is an illusion. If you’re like most professionals, most of your best thinking goes to waste because you already have too many things on your to-do list that didn’t get done yesterday or last week. You see, most of us have been trained to think that we should get it all done. We’re good people, we’ll rise to the occasion, and even though we understand conceptually that there is simply too much to do to really get it all done, we still try. We’ll be heroes, distinguish ourselves as unique and somehow get it all done.
Although we publicly say, “I’m swamped,” privately, we cling to a belief that we will: leave our clients ecstatic, properly prepare for each meeting, complete all our commitments, return all phone calls, answer all e-mails, plan strategically for the company’s future, empower our spouse, spend quality time with the kids, read real literature, cook and eat healthy food, write in a journal, take a vacation and pursue ourspiritual growth — all while getting enough sleep!
If we can disabuse ourselves of this obsolete model, there is some chance that we will do what is really most important, most strategic, most satisfying. We must begin by confronting the cold truth: You will never get it all done.
Three Steps to Scheduling
Here are three simple ways you can deal with that in a way that gives you some sense of power, rather than feeling defeated by it.
First, write down everything you have to do, manage or handle. I do mean everything — whether it’s work, family or personal. Don’t categorize, just write. You will find that you don’t have “a million things to do,” as we often say. In fact, most people don’t even get to 200. The point is to prove to yourself, that your to-do list is not infinite.
Next, keep a list of the things you want to remember, but that you aren’t going to actually schedule in your calendar. You know, the trip to Australia, the books you want to read, and the restaurants you want to try. It’s not the things you’re doing that make you feel overwhelmed. It’s all the stuff you’re trying to remember (and worrying that you will forget) that’s weighing you down.
Now schedule a starting and ending time for everything in your calendar. Begin to keep track of the real amount of time it takes to complete a task. Most of us chronically underestimate the amount of time it really takes to do something that meets our own standards of quality. I’ve even gone back and changed my calendar to reflect the amount of time I actually spent on something, to create a log of how long things really take to complete. By starting on time and ending on time, you begin to create a benchmark for realistic scheduling, which, by the way, ultimately enables you to say “no” when that’s the appropriate answer (rather than saying “yes” out of guilt that you should have the time).
With some honesty and a little discipline, you can start to see what you will truly not do, and start telling the truth about it. That way, you can give yourself fully to what you are doing, and really be there when you’re doing it. That may give you a sense of timelessness in the moment…before you remember to check your e-mail.