I have a nasty habit of overloading my schedule. Do you? I cram tasks, projects, and chores into every nook and cranny in my day. I’m usually up to my elbows in laundry, errands, online classes, or blog posts. However, I somehow convince myself I can fit in ONE more thing. An interesting new activity, appointment, or recipe won’t take THAT much extra time… (sigh-read about the resulting Christmas carnage here).
My quest: Discover the ultimate time management system.
If I could just cross items off my to-do list faster, I could get SO much done. Want me to read your post? Promise to increase my efficiency, improve my use of technology, or organize my life. Give me cooking tips, cleaning hacks, or organizational techniques. (See my clutter television show obsession here). I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE once I discover the ultimate time management philosophy, I’ll crush publishing, be fashionably chic, and have perfectly organized closets.
So, among the deluge of opportunities (see this post) that landed in my January inbox, I couldn’t resist a paperless workshop that promised to simplify my life. I found Barbara’s Simplify Days website through her Evernote templates-recommended in a previous class. I signed up and hoped her tips and techniques would improve my proficiency with digital tools. Then I’d finally find those extra hours required to accomplish EVERY goal on my list. (No pressure!)
My mission: Empty my brain.
Barbara begins the process by asking participants to do a brain dump. You may recognize this technique from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. First, she provided prompts to expose the unfinished tasks and projects stashed in my head. Whether I consciously realize it or not, all those undone tasks constantly fight for my attention. I know when I’m overloaded, I tend to make avoidable mistakes. (See what happened when I ordered the wrong socks.) So, I enthusiastically unloaded the contents.
However, recording every undone “thing” that popped into my thoughts, didn’t capture ALL my projects. At her urging, I conducted a quick tour of my condo. I peeked into closets and storage areas, boxes and book shelves, computer and physical files, and can you guess what was lurking there? EXACTLY! More want-to, need-to, or meant-to-do’s hidden out of sight, but evidently NOT out of mind. Barbara promised this process would ease some of my feelings of stress and frustration, but I felt skeptical.
Sleep well, sweet princess
To my surprise, Barbara’s prediction proved to be accurate. I slept well that night. (See my Fitbit stats below.) I awoke refreshed, excited, and ready to receive the next video. I couldn’t wait to learn Barbara’s secret. What wondrous strategy could make my long list magically disappear?
But, where is the magic?
Not only did the link to the next video arrive without a magic wand, but-to my horror-she suggested I pick up a pen and ELIMINATE as many tasks as possible. My hopes drooped and my excitement faded. How could THAT be the solution to my problem? In my humble opinion, ALL my ideas, tasks, and projects, are important. I don’t want to pare down the list, I want to complete EVERY FRICKIN ITEM. She might as well ask me to cut off my arm.
However, many of Barbara’s techniques echo the advice I’d found in other sources such as Change Anything and Finish. (I told you I’m always searching for tips.) Plus, I DID sleep well after the brain dump. So, despite my disappointment, I decided to soldier on and finish the workshop. Fortunately, there were several days before the last installment arrived. This allowed her wise counsel to simmer and percolate into my hard-headed attitude. (As I wrote here, I am often my own nemesis.)
My Aha moment
The next day several items stacked on an end table caught my attention. There was a grocery store ad-to remind me to do my shopping list, two library books-to remind me to finish reading them before the due date, and a remote control-to remind me of the programs I’d recorded but not yet watched. How long had these to-do’s been sitting on the table? How many times had they caught my eye and increased my stress level? I realized that these reminders only represented the tip of the iceberg. My actual list filled several pages. Could Barbara be correct? Did I need to (pardon my French) prioritize?
A realization dawned on me-an actual Oprah-style aha moment. No matter how much I push, these tasks aren’t getting done anyway. I’m only driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy. Even though I may think it’s impossible to eliminate items from my list, I already am. How? By not getting them done.
The Secret: What I decide NOT to do
So, Barbara shared some magic after all. She didn’t add more hours to my day, but she did convince me to simplify-simply by taking things OFF my list. Although I’m a work-in-progress, I already feel more focused and less stressed. Instead of piling on more and more projects, I’m free to make conscious and deliberate choices based on my goals and priorities. However, if you have a productivity hack-please share, I’m willing to read it! (Baby steps!)
How do you decide what to leave OFF your schedule? Share in the comments! Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you my next post.