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Enhance Productivity and Stop Over-Thinking: 3 Quick Ways to Get out of Your Own Way

Enhance Productivity and Stop Over-Thinking: 3 Quick Ways to Get out of Your Own Way

Concerned about your productivity? If your to-do list stresses you, consider that you might be more productive if you don’t get in your own way. Worrying and over-thinking your task list decreases your effectiveness and wastes time.

Eliminating over-thinking begins with careful planning. Commit to spending ten minutes a day planning your daily tasks, either the evening before, or first thing in the morning.

During your planning session, prioritize your tasks for the day into three groups: Must Do Today, Do If I Have Time, and Do Later.

Aim for just three to six tasks you MUST do today.

Next, experiment with the following processes.

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1. Describe the project, then chunk your tasks down.

Stress and over-thinking develop if you’re not clear on what a project or task entails. When you’re given a new assignment or project brief, describe it in your own words and write down your description.

Then contact the person who assigned the task, and ask them whether you’ve covered everything: “Just to be clear, I need to_____ (describe the project in your own words.)”

Although this tactic is simple, it works. When both you and the project assigner know what you’re doing not only will you eliminate procrastination, you’ll zoom through tasks faster.

Is it a project, or a task? Chunk it down.

If you’ve been procrastinating on a project, think about your reasons.

Do you have all the information you need?

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Have you chunked the project down into tasks, and those tasks into sub-tasks? “Writing a book” for example is a huge project. Chunk down once, and then again, and again.

I like to chunk projects down so that no task takes longer than 20 minutes to half an hour. It’s hugely satisfying to tick off tasks in a big project because you’re assured that you’re making progress. You’re confident, so you’re eager to get to the next task, and the next one after that.

When you get stuck on a project or task, allow your subconscious mind to help.

Albert Einstein said that: “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Let your subconscious mind do the work if you’re stuck. A flash of insight for a solution which allows you to move forward will dawn on you. I get my best inspirations when I’m walking my dog; some people get them in the bath or shower.

2. Give yourself half the time you think you’ll need for a project.

Although this tactic sounds weird, it works. It stops you over-thinking, and getting in your own way.

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When you’re assigned a project, estimate the time you’ll need. Then cut the time in half.

For example, let’s say that you’re asked to create a presentation which you’ll deliver at an upcoming meeting. You need time to research, create the presentation, and rehearse it.

You estimate the project will take you six hours. Give yourself three hours.

Although this is a fake deadline, you’ll be amazed at the results. Clever time-saving ideas will come to you, and you may find that you deliver better results when you work faster.

3. Time everything: time really is money.

Get a timer, and use it. I use Repeat Timer Pro on my iPhone and iPad.

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Repeat Timer Pro

    Use your timer for everything. If you’re dealing with email, and you estimate you’ll need 90 minutes to clear your Inbox for example, give yourself 45 minutes, and set your timer. You’ll hesitate less. You’ll delete with abandon.

    Tip: create boilerplate text for email, and then use a text-expanding app, so you can type an abbreviation which expands into a complete message. I use TextExpander on my Mac. If you’re on Windows, I’ve heard good things about Breevy.

    Try the three tactics: describe your projects and chunk them down. Then give yourself a fake deadline–see if you can get it done in half the time. And finally, time everything.

    You’ll be more productive, and happier too, when you stop over-thinking.

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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