Hanging On By Your Fingernails – What ISN'T Going To Get Done?

Stuff is coming at us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from all over the globe in today’s always-on world.  Not only do we have to process more information, but we also seem to end up with more things crowding their way onto our schedule and task lists.  Whether it’s filling out the coversheet to our TPS reports or getting treats for the ikebana “Tweet-Up,” there’s always more to manage and more to do.  The result is a sense of stress and mental (and physical) exhaustion.

An Exercise in Sanity

I often work with my coaching clients on this issue.  Many of these people are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things that end up on their plate, so the following is an exercise I ask them to perform in an effort for them to regain some sense of command over their world:

Step 1

Collect everything together in one place so you can work through all the demands on your time and energy.  (Also, note that it’s best to do this exercise when you start with a clear mind – first thing in the morning or on a weekend.)

Step 2

Review your short- and long-term priorities both professionally and personally.  If you can’t list them off the top of your head, create that list now.

Step 3

Begin working through the stack of items (and your calendar) asking yourself which of these three categories each item/event can be placed:

  • Eliminate:  These are items that don’t directly drive the objectives you reviewed/established in Step 2 above.  Generally, they linger on task lists and calendars, consuming valuable mental and physical resources (e.g., energy and time) with no obvious benefit to be derived.  My advice is to assume everything on your task list and calendar fits into this category until definitively established otherwise.
  • Delegate:  These are items that do, in fact, meet one of your objectives, but could (relatively) easily be performed by someone else.  Get these into production by delegating them.  You might have to train or mentor that person, but it’ll pay dividends in the long run if you move this onto their list/calendar.
  • Prioritize/Re-prioritize/De-prioritize:  These are the items/events that directly advance your objectives and can only reasonably be done by you.  This should be a very short list since most things can/should be eliminated or delegated, leaving you to attend to the highest level matters.  You should now prioritize these items in terms of what drives the most value to your objectives and re-prioritize (or de-prioritize) those things that are more wish list than value-add efforts.

The net result is that you have cleansed your task list and calendar of things that just take up space and that can be done by others.  You are left, I hope, with the high value-add items that directly contribute to your success as defined by your objectives.

Maintaining Sanity

Do this exercise at least once per month.  After the first cleansing, you’ll find it is quick and easy to complete because you are now more accustomed to making these decisions and because the pile will be smaller.  The end-game here is that you will have a much firmer grasp on your world and no longer feel like you are hanging on by your fingernails!

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