In today’s society, most of us have the same struggle: there just aren’t enough hours in the day and in this current information age our personal lives are even busier than our professional lives. It’s hard to keep up.
There are some people who seem to have no problem handling it all. They are always doing something productive; going to work, grocery shopping, washing the car, and hosting a birthday party for 20 five-year-olds, all in the same day! Yet they never seem to even break a sweat.
So, how do we successfully manage all that we have to do without completely losing our minds? The answer to this dilemma is in the how you do what you do instead of the what. Here are 8 common mistakes that are making you more stressed than you should be.
1. You multi-task without prioritizing.
Multi-tasking is a fact of life. We all do it. But consider this—truly successful people know how to prioritize their tasks, their time, and rarely multi-task. Focusing on too many things at ones makes you mediocre at them all. When you invest all of your energy, attention, and an allotted time frame to one thing‒more often than not‒you will do it well.
Consider this example: You come home from work and you need to make dinner and help your son with his homework. When you try to do them both at the same time, you over cook the meal and your son becomes frustrated and throws a mini tantrum because he can’t concentrate. You’re both frustrated, the homework takes hours, and the meal is barely edible.
OR: You come home from work and set a timer for 30 minutes and sit down to help your son with his math homework―uninterrupted. When the timer goes off, the homework is most likely complete or close. You, again set the timer for 30 minutes, and you focus on making dinner while your son finishes the last bit of his homework by himself or, if he still needs more assistance, you allow him to take a break while you make dinner and finish the homework after dinner. The result? A tasty meal and a happier little boy.
2. You make “to do” lists.
“To do” lists in and of themselves are actually very helpful and are a way to help us remember things. But remember, it’s not the what that is important it’s the how. Most people’s lists are long and very detailed. We over schedule our time and plan with a level of granularity that makes it impossible to be successful.
If you must make a “to do” list, instead of planning out every moment of the day in graphic detail, write down the top three things you would like to accomplish in broad terms. For example instead of saying, “I am going to drink a gallon of water today” and then plan how much water you need to drink every hour, say “I am going to drink more water today”. Your chances of success with fewer and more broadly defined goals are much higher. And success leads to more success. On the other hand, the opposite is also true. Failure is disheartening and discouraging. The more you fail, the closer you come to giving up.
Another alternative to the traditional “to do” list is using a live calendar to help arrange your day. You’ll receive updates and reminders that will help you with managing your time and keep you on track. Remember to keep the tasks broad and don’t fall victim to over-scheduling.
3. You rely on your brain to remember things.
This is a no brainer―pardon the pun. Relying on your memory to recall important information is a recipe for disaster. Your brain is very complex and overburdened with information. It needs help remembering things.
WRITE IT DOWN! If there is something you need to recall―write it down. The physical act of writing it down will aid you in remembering it. When you write things down, you are physically connecting the thought to an action. The simple act of writing things down increases the odds of you remembering it 3 fold. And if you still forget, no worries, you have it written down!
4. You instantly respond to electronic messages (emails, instant messages, social media posts, text messages, etc.)
This is by far one of the hardest habits for most of us, technology slaves to get used to. We have been conditioned―a lot like Pavlov’s dogs ‒ to respond immediately. We hear the notification ‘ding’ on our mobile device and we HAVE to check it out. We cannot fight the urge to see what’s happening.
News flash… texting LOL can wait. Most successful business professionals have a prescribed time―once or twice each day―where they stop what they are doing and answer emails and respond to messages (they don’t multi-task). They also set a time limit. Anything that does not get answered during their ‘mail’ time has to wait until the next time their calendar alerts them that it is time to check the mail. It takes discipline ‒ but you can do it.
5. You neglect the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto Principle): the premise of this principle is that 80 percent on an outcome is derived from 20 percent of the expended effort. If you think about this principle in terms of a team―let’s say a basketball team―this theory predicts that 80 percent of the team’s points would be scored by one player. Research shows that this theory is largely accurate in almost every input/output relationship.
The lesson here is, be careful on how you spend your time and energy. Learning to choose which activities will produce the greatest success and be the most productive is the key. This principle is all about priorities and being fully present during these key activities will enable you to better maximize you time and potential.
6. You procrastinate.
Better known as the “touch it once” rule. Simply put, if you touch something ‒ deal with it right then and there. If you open a letter and you are going to respond, respond immediately.
Think about the time you waste opening a bill, reading its contents, and then waiting until later to actually pay it or act on it. That was wasted time and energy. You now have to remember to pay the bill (and you didn’t write it down). If you see the letter and know that no matter the contents you are not ready to take an action, leave the letter, unopened in a designated spot to deal with it at a time you are ready to take action. It is OK to put things off ‒ as long as you do it intentionally and you have established a bigger priority to tackle at the moment.
7. You don’t say ‘No” and you don’t ask for help.
A shocking fact is that successful people value their time and energy over other people’s feelings. They have no problem saying no to things that do not make maximum use of their energy. In other words, if it is not a resounding “heck yeah!” then it’s a no. It’s not about putting yourself first or being selfish, it’s about being smart and efficient.
Also, people who experience large amounts of success do not see pending tasks as something they must do, they see them as something that must get done. Whatever is the best way, is what they choose. They have no problem asking for help from someone who may be more suited to the task than they are. And a team can do a job a lot faster than one person. Learn to shift your thinking from “I have to do this” to “what is the best way to get this done?”
8. You hyper focus and over fixate on tasks.
If you’re seeking to accomplish something and it just isn’t going well, learn to take a break and work on something else less difficult. You sit down to write your final term paper of the semester. It’s worth half of your grade for the entire semester but the words just aren’t flowing. Sitting there for hours trying to make yourself do it is actually less productive than taking a break and returning to it later. I know, I know this violates the “only touch it once rule”, however in this case, that rule is superseded by the 80/20 rule. You are expending way too much energy for virtually no output. And also remember that success breads success.
Instead, take a break and work on your economics homework which you can do with your eyes closed, do some laundry, and go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. You’ll feel better.