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Getting Unstuck When You Have Too Many Things To Do or Under Pressure
Feeling overwhelmed by too many things to do at your work or home? Multiple high priority projects and constant interruptions?
Sometimes your head becomes like a computer with too many programs open. And, like that computer, it gets slow and unresponsive. You just hold in your mind tons of unfinished businesses and suppressed feelings. And they block your ability to concentrate, to make progress, or to see any big picture.
Here is an effective formula that can get you back in control of your situation in 6 easy steps.
This formula is simple, but it is not just every day common sense. It encapsulates some of the best insights ever revealed in time management and self improvement literature.
STEP 1: Capture Everything that Bugs You
Take a sheet of paper or open a text file on your computer and
start making a list of all the things that are running in your mind right now. This is your “Catch-All” list. The items you write may be
- your coming appointments,
- current projects or tasks,
- promises to get back to somebody,
- put off decisions,
- incidents from near past that somehow touched your emotionally,
- internal or external conflicts,
- something you think you should have done (but didn't),
or any other thought or feeling that seems to run in your mind somewhere.
For every such thing, capture it on paper in a small note that just names or symbolizes that item. Just keep capturing those big and small items as they come to your mind. Don't judge them. Don't try to decide, do, or resolve anything yet. Just write to capture!
Feel like nothing else left in your mind that you could capture in your list? Not even somewhere in the background? Good. Let’s move to the next step.
STEP 2: What Are Your Real Intentions?
(“List of Goals”)
Start from looking at your catch-all list and just ask yourself:
"Why do I bother with all that stuff?" and
"What do I really want to accomplish?"
Answer those questions by writing down your desired outcomes. Don’t try to perfect your formulations. Just write as it comes to your head.
Look at every desired outcome you wrote and ask yourself:
"Is it something that I personally truly want?"
If the answer is "No", then either just cross that point out or replace it with something that IS your real intention. It may be that some of those points are just the means of achieving something else that you truly desire. What is it?
Now transform those outcome notes into a list of goals on a separate piece of paper or in a separate file.
Formulate each goal as a complete specific sentence that starts from "I" and continues in the present tense. Like, for example,
- "I have submitted my report on ... to ...",
- "I have developed the habit of ...",
- "I am a ...",
- "I maintain ... ",
Whenever makes sense, finish the sentence with a reasonable deadline, like "by June 1", "by the end of this month", "this year".
Make sure that, inside you, you are able to accept each of those goals as realistic.
As something that you can envision yourself being, doing, or having. Revise your goal until it feels realistic.
Now you have the right perspective to come back again to your catch-all list.
STEP 3: Let It Go!
Go through the list from STEP 1, item by item, and ask yourself:
"Can I do anything about this and would it help my true goals and intentions?"
If the answer is "No", then make a conscious decision to let this item go. Your decision may mean that you:
accept certain external situation or condition, just consciously decide to let it be like it is, period;
forgive yourself for doing or not doing something in the past, and/or forgive whoever else is involved;
just drop something redundant that does not really move you anywhere, even if this something seemed urgent.
For some items, it may be that you answered "No", but you cannot just let them go. For example, the item may involve some external commitment, like a promise to somebody. It can be something you agreed to do on impulse without enough thinking, or you were manipulated into something and it was hard to say no. Any situation that you resent and would not get into if you could come back and start it over?
If so, ask yourself "How could I get out of this situation?". Set a goal of getting out of that undesired situation. Add this new specific goal to the list of your goals from STEP 2.
The step of letting go may be painful at times, but it can free you from many hidden drains of energy that have been eating up your productivity and piece of mind.
STEP 4: What Is Your Next Action Step?
Get another sheet of paper and put a headline "NEXT STEPS".
Now go through your goals from STEP 2 and the items that are still left on the list from STEP 1. For each item ask yourself:
"How can I move this one step forward? Just one specific, clear, and doable step?"
Write this action step down.
The action can be to ask somebody else to do something (delegate the item), or to get specific help or information from somebody, or it can be something you just need to do yourself. Just clarify it in writing.
STEP 5: Time to Make Progress!
Every day in the morning or, even better in the evening of the day before, read your master list of next actions and ask yourself which of those items need to be done today (tomorrow) and/or could move you forward much more if done as soon as possible. Select a reasonable number of such items and put them on your daily to do list.
Prioritize your daily list. Just ask yourself:
"Which of those actions could have the largest positive (or negative, if undone or delayed) impact on my future? "
Mark those action items with "A"s. Rate other items with "B"s or "C"s, depending on their relative importance.
Use the to do list as your main guide for the day. Give your fullest attention and your best time and energy to the highest priority items, your "A"s. Jump on them, one at a time, and wrestle them to completion.
Whenever something unexpected comes up during the day, let go of the urge to bypass the list. Instead, if the item can wait, just add it to your “Catch-All” list, and come back to your daily list. If it needs to be done today, if ever, add it to your daily list, and assign it "A", "B", or "C" priority. Continue with your list, item by item. Just do it and cross it out.
STEP 6: Review and Keep it Going
At the end of the day review your daily progress and update your lists.
Is there anything you forgot to capture in your “Catch-All” list during the day?
If so, capture it now.
Read your goals again. Could you correct your goals to better reflect your intentions and your situation? Make those corrections.
What needs most updates is your list of next actions. You need to remove the action steps that you completed and you need to add new action steps to serve your catch-all list and the list of goals.
What you need to make sure is that each of your points from your Catch-All list and each of your goals has a corresponding action step in your list of next actions.
Finally, when you have your updated list of next action make your new daily to do list for the next day. See STEP 5 above.
After you have tried the above 6-step formula, you can further improve your results and understanding by using some related tips and insights from my site.
For STEP 2, check my goal setting articles on
For STEP 4, when deciding on your best course of action you may want to use some of my tips on decision making and brainstorming:
For STEP 5, see my tips on making a daily to do list.
Sergey Dudiy, Ph.D.
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