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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Too Much On Your Plate? 7 Ways to Tackle It

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Too Much On Your Plate? 7 Ways to Tackle It

Do you ever feel like you’re crossing off tasks from your never-ending “to-do” list and yet get to the end of your day feeling like you didn’t make significant progress?

Your new marketing plan takes a backseat. The much needed “you time” is put off until next week. The exciting new idea you’ve been working on can wait until life gets less hectic.

You have too much on your plate but unsure of what to do. In a world where we value the pursuit of more—ideas, tasks, actions—what if you were able to shift to valuing less, putting your energy towards what really matters?

There is a way, one where you take control back. Here, you identify what matters most. You make deletion a habit. You leave the cult of busy and value priorities instead of random actions.

In this article, you’re going to learn how to manage the feeling that you always have too much on your plate. Most importantly, you’ll get your mental sanity back while being able to make progress on what matters to you.

1. Delete the Clutter—Literally

As you read this, there is physical, mental, and emotional clutter that is robbing you of precious energy from what really matters. This manifests itself in myriad ways.

Your workspace makes it impossible to focus. Your calendar has recurring meetings that expired months ago. You haven’t had that one conversation that keeps you anxious. In other words, your next level of growth starts with subtraction.

We tend to overestimate how much we can get done while underestimating the amount of time and energy things will take. Researchers call this the “planning” fallacy.[1] The result is that in trying to do too much, we fall short every time.

Instead, start by deleting something today:

  • Donate old clothes.
  • Clear the clutter in your home office.
  • Tell your college friends in the text message thread that you’re going to be away for a while.
  • Scan your calendar for any worn-out obligations that are consuming your precious time, energy, and attention.

While many productivity experts will stack new actions, habits, and routines to your schedule, you’re going to do the opposite. By deleting things out of your life, you create some much-needed breathing room. With this newfound perspective, you can now identify what matters.

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2. Identify Your “Big 3” Priorities

We tend to overvalue new ideas, projects, and initiatives because they provide a tantalizing dopamine hit of possibility. Not being able to set your priorities straight results in having too much on your plate.

  • The new marketing campaign is a can’t miss for doubling profits.
  • The collaboration with someone we admire has unlimited potential.
  • The new podcast we’re launching will turn us into our industry’s top expert.

Right?

Well, not always. Due to the planning fallacy we mentioned above, we often say yes to way too much at once, which means we scatter our limited energy and focus across too many domains.

Instead, take a minimalist approach to your life, career, and business. In any given quarter or “season,” pick one, two, or three main priorities.  These are typically not urgent, yet vitally important projects that move the needle in a significant way. They are not half-hearted tasks, random initiatives, or “fake work”. They are connected to your bigger goals and matter to you.

If you’re having trouble identifying your “Big 3,” write down at least 15-20 possibilities that could be one. Then, take a step back, and highlight the most important ones.

Going forward, you’ll now be able to filter your decision-making by asking a question—will this next task, meeting, action serve one of those priorities?

Granted, not everything you do all day will. But this alone will help you with making better and faster decisions, establishing boundaries, and taking control back of what matters. When you do, you’ll start winning your day with daily, consistent action.

3. Win the Day With 1% Progress

The conventional wisdom of personal growth and self-help have sold you a false myth—the illusion that every day must be a rousing success. Hopped up on motivation, it’s easy to buy into this narrative and yet, sustained success is about consistent action steps compounded over long periods of time.

Enter the 1% rule, which operates under the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen—defined as steady, continuous improvement. Using this rule, you’ll make daily progress a habit and tap into the number one human motivator.

Research by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer dove into why people stay motivated at work. In analyzing 12,000 diary entries where they tracked their emotional state various times a day, they came to one conclusion—it’s not money, it’s not security, and it’s not approval. Progress is more important than anything else.[2]

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To harness what is called the progress principle’, break down the priorities from step two into the smallest possible action.

For example:

  • Instead of “create a marketing plan”, start with the first step—brainstorm marketing ideas for twenty minutes.
  • Instead of “launch website”, choose to complete a draft of your About Me page.
  • Instead of “grow the business”, choose to make three extra sales calls on any given week.

Progress triggers dopamine in the brain, which makes motivation surge, and the cycle repeats itself. One percent today and tomorrow start to accumulate, and incremental growth turns into exponential. To make this a consistent practice, you’re going to lower the bar to get started.

4. Lower the Bar to Get Started

We’ve all found ourselves staring at a blank cursor at the local coffee shop, primed to do important work, and then realized that 55 minutes went by and we got nothing done.

Why? Getting started is always the hardest part, and it’s much harder when you have too much on your plate. Whether that’s your workout routine or working on your priorities, resistance is always highest right before you start.

Borrowing the term from how chemical compounds change at different thresholds, psychologists call this term “activation energy”.[3]

This is a fancy way of saying the energy it takes for you to go from thinking about doing something to doing it. The higher the volume of the task, the longer the wait to get started or, in many cases, we put it off entirely.

Instead, you’re going to play a trick on yourself:

  • Instead of a 45-minute time-block, commit to doing 10 minutes.
  • Instead of a 3-mile run, commit to two loops around the block.
  • Instead of cleaning your home, commit to getting the closet done.

By lowering the bar, you’ll take the pressure off yourself. And, as you’ll notice, once you’ve started, it’s much easy to keep going.

5. Double Your Rate of Saying No

No decision you make is ever in a vacuum. The coffee meeting you agreed to early in the morning means you said “no” to your morning workout. We tend to say yes freely without thinking about the consequences until we’re stuck at a networking mixer or Zoom catch-up we don’t want to be in.

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However, the most important word you can use in the pursuit of taking stuff off your plate is “no.”

Here are two questions to ask yourself when receiving a request or opportunity are:

  • If this was tomorrow morning, would I still say yes? We tend to say yes to anything that is a few weeks or months out.
  • If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to, and is it worth it? This simple question allows you to be aware of the cost.

Saying no creates instant clarity. It deletes “open loops” in our heads and honors some much-needed boundaries. Most importantly, it gives you the time, energy, and bandwidth to pour yourself into your priorities.

Of course, this does not mean you will neglect parts of your life you enjoy. Rather, you will do so with discernment. Otherwise, you will say “yes” to anyone and everyone at your expense.

Instead, say “yes” to yourself first. Say yes to your goals. Say yes to your priorities. Say yes to your creative time before you agree to someone else’s needs and agendas.

6. Leave the Cult of Busy

The cult of busy consumes your precious energy and thrives on making you a card-carrying member who pays their dues with exhaustion, scattered progress, and burnout. Busyness has become a societal badge of honor—a ‘tell’ to let others know you’re important. It’s as if having too much on your plate is a good thing.

However, is busy actually working? On a long enough timeline, busy leads to overwhelm, distraction, and a lot of social media scrolling. To leave the cult of busyness is a courageous act, and it starts with your language.

Research has shown that language provides a look into our beliefs. If we believe we are always busy and don’t have enough time, it’s easy to procrastinate and self-sabotage on what matters.

Next time you want to tell the world how busy you are and how hectic life seems to be, catch yourself. Shift your language, use words like prioritized, focused, committed—and watch how these shift your emotional state.

7. Celebrate Wins Every Day

You’re the worst person in the world to recognize your growth. It’s a bold statement, but I can say that with confidence because I am, too. We all are. We are masters at focusing on what’s not working and the “gap” between today’s reality and our future selves.

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Furthermore, we often discount the goals we worked hard to attain. We brush them off once we’ve achieved them and quickly move onto the next.

It’s time to take control back and celebrate at least three wins every day. These are not about grand moments, it’s about the small ways you showed up. This is essential to helping yourself when you have too much on your plate.

If you want to unlock this even further, identify the ‘ingredient of success’ for your win.

For example:

  • Your win was to show up for your early morning workout, the ingredient is discipline.
  • Your win was to have a tough conversation with someone, the ingredient is honesty.
  • Your win was to publish something before you felt ready, the ingredient is courage.

Why does this matter?

Celebrating small wins has been shown to amplify motivation in our personal and professional lives.[4] By writing these down, you’ll recognize the places where you are growing and are already accumulating the ingredients of your next success.

It’s Time to Take Stuff Off Your Plate

We’ve all felt like we have too much on our plate at some point—and things seem to be getting worse, not better. There are more tasks to do. There are more social media platforms to post and comment on. More inputs are competing for our attention that never seem to end.

The reality is that unless you take control of this now, it will only get worse. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

  • You can delete clutter every day.
  • You can get clear on your priorities.
  • You can choose to leave the cult of busy.

Once you do, you’ll start to value less, not more. You’ll accumulate winning days more often. You’ll learn how to set boundaries and recognize a distraction disguised as a shiny opportunity.

Best of all, you’ll get to the end of your days knowing you are moving forward in your life and business. During these times, nothing could be more important or relevant.

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More Tips to Help You End Overwhelm

Featured photo credit: Tetiana SHYSHKINA via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Exploring the “Planning Fallacy”: Why People Underestimate Their Task Completion Times
[2] Harvard Business Review: The Power of Small Wins
[3] Psychology Today: Activation Energy: How It Keeps Happiness at a Distance
[4] Harvard Business Review: The Power of Small Wins

More by this author

Tommy Baker

Expert on human potential and reverse engineering success.

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Last Updated on October 4, 2021

How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

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How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

It has become more challenging to stay on task and avoid distractions. Unfortunately, the great benefits of today’s technologies have also become the biggest enemies of focused action. The pandemic has, of course, made its own corrections in the way we manage our time, business, family, and life. Did you know that the time-tracking market will increase worldwide by roughly 21 percent by 2025?[1]

With more and more distractions appearing in our daily lives, it’s understandable that people keep pushing themselves to squeeze every minute out of the day. But only a few realize that outside distractions are fairly easy to avoid compared to our inner triggers.

Mistakenly, we blame only outside distractions, thinking that they mess with our ability to stay on task and make it almost impossible to avoid them. However, our inner triggers are what play the biggest role in focused and productive action. While external triggers are cues from our environment that tell us what to do next, inner triggers are cues from within us. For example, when we’re hungry, we are cued to get something to eat and so on. Understanding what kind of trigger is pursuing you to take certain actions will help you determine the best solution to stay on task.

While distractions are everywhere, it’s not impossible to minimize them. Distractions itself is a topic long, wide, and deep enough for a book at least. On Amazon alone, there are more than 9000 books with a “distraction” on the cover. This once again proves our need for solid tools, systems, and new approaches to help us stay on task and avoid distractions.

Here is my formula for you to stay on task. It is not your typical “turn off your phone” and “close your emails” type of list. This formula has been crafted over years of experience, research, and knowledge. It looks deeper than external pings, rings, and dings.

I aim to give you a different perspective on how you are managing your time, attention, and decision-making. If used with one mind and willingness to truly build a skill to stay on task, this formula might be just the right read for you.

1. Manage Your Attention Before Trying to Manage Your Time

We can manage our time better if we can manage our attention. Time management depends a lot on attention, focus, and flow management, rather than planning and scheduling. Although technical support is a big part of focused action, if we lack prioritizing and attentiveness, we will eventually waste time one way or the other and make it difficult for us to stay on task. Therefore, getting clear on our intention behind the task is crucial for staying on it and not getting distracted.

Do you want to be more productive and feel good about what you accomplish at the end of the day? Do you want to have time to learn a new skill, building a better service so you can create more impact? Do you want to protect yourself from distraction, unwanted information, and more wasted time? Whatever your reasoning, if you can focus, you can get more important things done in less time. In that way, the focus is the ultimate “productivity hack.”

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We all have the same 24 hours. But what matters more than the length of time you put into a task is the intensity of focus because if you have an intensity of focus, you can reduce the amount of time spent doing it to get the same or better results. Even if you’re not in a state of flow, focus helps you get more out of the day.

A study from the University of California at Irvine found that, on average, participants (who worked in the tech field) could only work on a project for 11 minutes before being distracted. What’s worse is that it took them more than 25 minutes to regain their focus.[2]

Focus keeps you productive. It’s what determines whether you do what you want to or spend the day distracted. But it goes much deeper than this.

Being focused allows us to choose the life we want to live, not just react to what’s happening around us. So, let me give you some ideas on how to increase your attentiveness. If you want to improve your focus, you have to do more than just make yourself pay attention. Focus is as much about what you’re paying attention to as what you’re blocking out because unfortunately, the world around us is incredibly distracting and it makes challenging for our brain to focus on a task.

Learn How to Take Control of Your Technologies

There is no escaping from technology, but we need to understand that it is here to serve us, not the other way around. Many of the default settings on our devices are set to take our attention away, and it’s up to you to change them.

Create a Focus-Friendly Work Environment

This plays a massive role in your ability to focus., yet most of us don’t think much of it. Getting rid of clutter, organizing your stuff so you don’t waste time trying to find things, avoiding outside noise and unnecessary interruptions are what will help you stay on task.

Stop Multitasking

If you haven’t heard it enough times already, multitasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re just quickly switching back and forth between the tasks. This isn’t very efficient, and it makes us more stressed. Even worse, the more you multitask, the more your brain looks for more things to do at once. It’s like your training your brain to be unproductive. However, focusing on one task at a time rebuilds your focus, lowers stress, and can even make you more creative.

2. Declutter Your Mind as Well as Your Desk

Clear space creates a clear head. It increases productivity and saves us from distractions. But clearing your desk is very technical. It’s fairly easy doable and repeatable. If you have a system in place that you love, you would only have to declutter once, and then you would just follow your path where clutter gets thrown away regularly. This allows for constant rotation of creative energy giving you space to evolve.

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However, a tidy space actually can keep you on the task only for that long. It can give you only that much of a clear head and distraction-less space. While it immensely helps to shift the energy, it will not keep you distraction-less forever, and this is where your mindset comes in. The “clear space creates clear head” is only partly true.

Clear space gives us more clear mind for that moment, but this is not your long-term solution. If you would have managed to keep your workspace clean, clutter-free, you would still have thoughts. According to research, an average person has 6000 thoughts every day![3]

Will a decluttered space be able to help you with all of them? No! But this is where the mindset work comes in. No tool, tip, trick, or hack will be able to solve your timing or focus issues. Only you can do that because you are the one in charge of your time, your commitments, your schedule, your plan, and also your mind.

If you ever tried to meditate, you know that it takes time to clear your head from thoughts, calm the mind, and thrive in presence. And it is definitely one practice that can help you understand how your mind works. If you are having difficulty staying on task, then it’s time to look for the cause.

If you think that another great new productivity app will solve your problems and you will finally be able to stay on task, it will not support your long-term vision. Yes, it might help for a month or two, but then what? Are you willing to go back and search for other solutions while your to-do list keeps growing and your time freedom is non-existent?

It is great to start by decluttering the mind. Support it with decluttered space on your way to great focus and productive work. Ask yourself: What is blocking you from undivided attention? Have you ever thought that you could be keeping yourself busy to feel worthy of your income? It’s a clue to your limiting beliefs! Imagine if you could replace that with a success mindset, how would your focus increase? It’s taking one mindset block at a time and working through it.

3. Work on Your Pain

What does pain have to do with focus? We waste our time when we get distracted, and we get distracted all the time. Imagine how much you would be able to achieve if you would stay focused on the task for that scheduled time, commit to that task and get it done. Who knows? You might even finish it in half the time you planned.

But let me explain to you something about pain. We allow ourselves to get distracted because it’s our decision to check that ping, ring, and ding. We decide to focus somewhere else when that ring comes knocking. We make that choice because of the pain. We feel discomfort, and we all love comfort, right? Our natural way of avoiding pain and discomfort is what makes us lean towards distractions rather than stay on task. It’s worth looking deeper and understand what are the underlying issues that you’re trying to avoid when distracted.

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Working on that pain will help you stay focused and committed to even the hardest of tasks. If you’re committed to your growth in all areas, it’s up to you to stay on task even when you don’t feel like it.

I challenge you to look where that pain is coming from that causes you to get distracted. Find it, and let it go so you can be attentive, present, and focused.

4. Rewrite Your Habits

We are in charge of building our success habits, so what are you working on today to allow yourself to stay on task with as little effort as possible? Below are the most common distracting habits that probably have been creeping into your daily routine as well.

Stop Adding Things to Your To-Do List

To-do lists give you too much flexibility, too much freedom of choice, and too much space for procrastination to creep in. Everything you’re planning to do, schedule it in your calendar instead. Plan your tasks, and put timing next to every task. Like that, you will create space for important tasks, prioritize wiser, and won’t be able to overbook your time.

If you think about it, putting your tasks into your calendar creates well-deserved peace of mind, gives you much more freedom, and keeps you productive. You’re no longer overshadowed by your never-ending to-do list that keeps growing by minutes and never gets completed. Staying committed to your calendar is a part that can’t be avoided if you want to stay on task. If it’s on your calendar, you have already committed to doing it. You have already decided that something is important enough to get on our calendar, so it’s worth your focus.

Stop Notifying Yourself and Scrolling Your Screen

Checking notifications, emails, messages as they come in. That “beep” sound distracts you in a fraction of a second, but unfortunately, it takes much longer to get back into your creative flow after an innocent “I will just quickly check-it might be urgent.”

For better productivity, you should set certain times when you allow yourself to check emails and it should not be more than twice a day. Seriously, it is enough times (I’m talking from experience). Scrolling through social media is nothing new, yet it still is the biggest time-waster. You get sucked into random posts only to realize that another 20 minutes have passed without creating results for your future. Mind your own business (literally), and create before you consume.

Stop Acting Like You’re Superhuman

Multitasking is not an admirable ability, it’s destructive behavior. You have probably heard about it, but let me remind you again: trying to do more than one thing at a time diminishes your productivity. The human brain simply isn’t designed to multitask. Your brain slows down as it switches between tasks, which takes more time and makes you less efficient.

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Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more effective. If you’re taking too many breaks, you end up lingering and not getting your focus back. Schedule your break to keep yourself in check and focused. Too many breaks lead to more wasted time. Oftentimes, it means working when exhausted. All it does is create more exhaustion and more mistakes. You may also end up facing burnout.

Do yourself a favor and make sleep a priority. The time you spend resting will pay off when you’re awake and ready to take on the world. Once you are clear on what wasted your time, create a to-don’t list to get clear on things you know you should not be doing.

5. Find Traction

We are used to thinking that the opposite of distraction is focus—where we are fully present, attentive, and focused on what it is that we are doing. But the opposite of distraction is actually “traction,” and traction from Latin is an action that pulls you towards what you want to do. So, distractions are actions that pull you away from what you want to do, and tractions are actions that move you towards what you want to do. This means that any action can be either a distraction or traction depending on what you intend to do with your time.

There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching YouTube videos, or playing a video game, as long as that’s what you intend to do. It’s when you do things unintentionally that you get into trouble. When you get pulled away from what you need to do to avoid discomfort, to avoid that hard work or that pressure dealing with a specific task, that’s when you allow yourself to get distracted.

So, if you’re asking if it’s possible to avoid distractions, the answer is yes. But you don’t want to do it! You want to notice these moments of discomfort and understand what causes you to get distracted. What are you trying to avoid? Why are you letting yourself get pulled away from things that you need to do?

If we dig deeper, we can see things for what they are, including ourselves, our believes, our thoughts, and anything that sabotages our focus without us realizing it.

Final Thoughts

Distractions are a very wide range of things. They are everywhere, looking for you to bring your attention to them. The good news is that you can stay on task if only you choose to. You are in charge, and now that you have a better insight into your triggers, it will hopefully allow you to get less distracted and more focused.

No matter what your distractions are, you are in control of your time, what you do with it, and where you spend it. Be sure to keep that control in your hands.

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Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com

Reference

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