You know the feeling. You've got a million things on your to-do list, and they're all clamoring for attention. You chew your fingernails, trying to decide where to start. Whatever you choose, it'll feel like the wrong decision: you won't be able to get rid of that nagging voice that says, "I should be doing something else."
So what do you do? I know what I often end up doing: writing non-essential emails, browsing Facebook, or chatting online â€“ anything to help me zone out and forget for a few minutes just how overwhelmed I'm feeling! Sound familiar?
Obviously, the problem with this behavior is that you're no closer to your goals than before. You still have just as much to do, and you haven't solved the pressing question: where to start?
Here's a better approach.
- Write Down Everything.
Sometimes it feels like you have more on your plate than you really do. After jotting down your list, you may be surprised to find that there aren't a million things on it â€“ maybe just five or six! The very act of writing everything down helps you focus your thoughts and feel more calm. Plus, you now have a starting point, and you can move on to....
- Prioritize Your List.
Is there one thing that jumps out as the most important? If so, forget about everything else and do that one thing. If there isn't one thing â€“ everything is roughly equal in importance but does need to get done eventually â€“ then fake it. Without overthinking it, quickly label each item on your list with a number, starting with number one.
- Just Do It.
Now pick #1 on your list and take a couple deep breaths. And â€“ do it! When you finish, do the next thing.
- Smile & Breathe.
As you're plugging away, you may still hear that little annoying voice saying "I should be doing something else." Don't give in and second guess yourself. You'll just end up dashing madly from one thing to another, accomplishing nothing concrete. Smile, take a deep breath, and tell yourself, "I know it feels like I should be doing something else, but that's a typical side effect of having lots to do. I'm not going to give in to distraction now!" Then get on with it. Don't get frustrated; it's perfectly normal to feel anxious when you're overwhelmed with tasks. The important thing is that you actually are doing something about it.
I've used this technique successfully in the past and I know I will again. Remember, it boils down to just picking anything and doing that one thing with singleminded focus before moving onto the next thing. Does it really matter where you start? No â€“ but the sooner you start somewhere, the sooner you'll be finished with everything and taking a well-deserved break.
Now get to it!