If you’re like me, and most of the women I work with, you’re feeling the weight of this time of the year. We’re getting to the end, and as always happens towards the end, time is speeding up so it feels you have less of it. The tasks you’ve been taking on over the year, consciously and unconsciously, have left little space for a breather. Add to that deadlines at work, activities at the kids’ school and the busy-ness of Christmas. It’s no wonder so many of us are feeling the stress of it all.
If this feels true for you right now, or if stress, overwhelm and frustration is a constant in your life, here’s a 3-step strategy that will lighten your load so you can engage in the important aspects of your life with greater joy and productivity. I like to think of it like the Activity Monitor on my computer. When I’m working on way too many documents and juggling between Word, OneNote and EverNote (yes I tend to do that), I choke my computer and invariably see that circle of doom that shows up on Macs – the colorful circle that goes round and round when I make any changes. And when I close off the things that are “nice to have” open, but can just as well be closed, my computer speeds up instantly and becomes a joy to work on.
Our minds are no different. When we keep piling on tasks, everything slows down. And when we take out what we don’t need, we give ourselves far greater flexibility to take on a little more when needed, and far greater joy in what we do.
Here’s a 3 step strategy that will help you do so:
Take a sheet of paper (or an excel sheet) and divide it into 2 columns. In the first one, write out everything that’s on your plate right now. This includes tasks at work of course, but also everything you’ve taken on at home, at school, in the community, with the extended family… What are all the things that take up your day? And don’t leave out the things that take up “only a minute”, because they never do! In the other column, write down all the things you’d like to do “if only I had the time”. This may take a bit of thought, especially if you’ve left all your dreams on the back burner for so long that you can’t even remember them. Now for the fun part! Highlight everything on both lists that’s important to you. Cross out everything that’s not. Bold everything that others can do just as well (more on that below). And italicize the things that can go in the “one day” basket – these are the things that are important to you but can wait. Until you do this list, you’ll have no idea how freeing it is!
Ask for Help
Next, take a closer look at the bolded list. Who will you reach out to? Many of the high-achieving women I work with struggle here because they feel others won’t do the tasks as well. If that’s you, here’s my 2 cents – dump perfection! No one will notice the difference, so stop paying attention to it yourself. Go for the 60% rule – can they do it 60% as well? If yes, reach out to them! Similarly, take a look at the highlighted list. Do you have all the resources you need to accomplish it? Would it help if you had some help in doing so? Perhaps some tech help at work. Perhaps friends with whom you can car-pool the school pickups and drop offs? People generally like to help, and you may even be lightening their load in the process. If you want to take on everything yourself – the classic supermom syndrome – or find it difficult to ask for help, you may need to explore this further.
Set Clear Expectations
Now that you’re clear on what’s important to you, how are you going to protect your time so you get to it? Here’s an analogy I like to give – one that I call the “garage door effect”. The wider you leave it open, the more you’ll fill your garage with needless clutter. The same applies to our lives. The less clear we are about our boundaries, the more we let people into our space until we have none to move in. Much like a garage! This is all the more important the higher you rise up the corporate ladder. Setting expectations with your team means letting them know when you’re available and when you’re not, in person, and also online. This allows you to be disciplined about taking out time to do the work that’s important without constant interruptions or the pressure to reply to emails, and to take breaks throughput your day where you can reset your body’s clock for optimal functioning.
For me, one hour of quiet time is the bare minimum I need if I want to show up as the person I want to be around others. On week days I get ample of it. But on weekends, I have to set clear expectations with my children so we can all enjoy the time we’re together. I try and protect it even when we travel, without getting too obsessive about it. I find that like sleep, I’m okay if I skimp on it once in a while, but doing so on a regular basis serves no one well.
Try this strategy and see whether it helps you relieve some of your stresses and free up more time for joyful productivity.