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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

Too Much On Your Plate? 7 Ways to Tackle It

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.

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 April 19, 2021

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

“As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

What Is Block Scheduling?

Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

“Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

What is time blocking?

    1. Assess Your Calendar

    Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

    Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

    2. Look for Patterns

    After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

    • Administrative
    • Meetings
    • Creative work
    • Email
    • Personal time.

    You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

    3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

    Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

    • 8-9am: Respond to emails
    • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
    • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
    • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

    However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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    Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

    Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

    Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

    4. Create Day Themes

    If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

    If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

    Benefits of Block Scheduling

    Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

    Battle Procrastination

    If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

    For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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    Create Realistic Time Estimates

    Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

    Develop More Focus and Attention

    When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

    Final Thoughts

    Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

    In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

    If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

    Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

    More Tips on Time Management

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

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