"There's too much to do and never enough time in the day." This thought can sometimes be like a loudspeaker in moments of overwhelm and over commitment.
The never ending to do list, the same chores daily or weekly, that if we don't get to, piles up and again creates a backlog and more overwhelm.
The late Stephen Covey's book '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' included Habit 3: Put First Things First. This was demonstrated to a live audience, for one of his videos, by selecting a volunteer. The volunteer was provided a bucket with rocks and another with sand and pebbles and was asked to fit in all the rocks and sand into one bucket. Each of the rocks were labeled with important things (i.e. vacation time, kids, spouse, career, retirement, etc). The volunteer had to then start choosing what rocks to fit in, because it was obvious they were not all going to fit into the bucket with sand. This volunteer had to make several hard choices like choosing between kids and big work project or spouse and career. The demonstration was meant to be fun, but reflected the same real struggles we have of juggling and rearranging our "Big Rocks" daily.
After 5 minutes of a gallant effort by the volunteer, Dr. Covey asked if he could help. He took an empty bucket, started putting in all the big rocks (which represented all the important things in our life) filled the bucket with all these rocks and then dumped the sand and pebbles (which represent all the urgent and unimportant things) into the bucket filling the cracks and crevices left by the big rocks. It all fit.
How can this be applied to real life? Three things can help fitting in the Big Rocks:
I'm a huge fan of lists. When I start my day or overwhelm hits, I break out my yellow posty pad or notebook and do a brain dump of everything that needs to be done. I also like to break down tasks into smaller steps so that I can get a realistic idea of how long something will take. For example if you have to "clean the living room", a quick clean could involve sub tasks: collecting toys, putting toys upstairs in playroom and vacuum. In reviewing the steps we can estimate that they would take 15-20 minutes tops combined and then can easily figure out a good time to get each of those items done if you don't have a 20 minute chunk to spare. So the one main "clean living room" task can be broken into three 5 minute smaller tasks.
Sometimes the lists can be extensive and also validates that there is too much to do and then there is a need to prioritize which is most important now and leaving the unimportant and/or low urgency items for another day with more room.
2. Calendar/Schedule it
Physically block out time on the calendar for items on the list. Having a visual of tasks and setting aside that time on the calendar helps to see where everything fits in.
Space out the Big Rock/priority items, including 1-3 main tasks a day max and leaving time for unexpected things that come up or for time overruns on the main tasks.
This typically alleviates overwhelm and secures confidence to get through the tasks and sub steps quickly and efficiently while still planning for the unplannable.
When we have to dos that we never get to, it's because there is no urgency, they never get done and they stay on our to do list FOREVER. We all know those super important tasks that we just keep pretending that there is absolutely no time for...getting the oil changed in the car, dropping off the dry clean stuffs, making that eye or dentist appointment. Set a date, commit and do it. When we leave it on the list or avoid it, it is sucking our mental energy knowing it is still there, knowing all we need to do is make a phone call or drive somewhere. Just do it and make room for other tasks on the checklist.
Deadlines work really well with the lists. Work backwards - when is the drop dead date that a priority needs to be complete? What steps needs to happen to prepare or complete? Chart out deadline and milestone points between now and then.
For example if you know that you want to make room for one of your Big Rocks and take a vacation at the end of a month, that means you have to get through x,y,z at work by the end of the third week. If you want to get through x,y,z you would prepare a list of what detailed steps need to be completed for x,y,z and requests that need to go out by the first week of the month. You can now ensure that x be completed by the end of the first week, y will be completed by the second and z will be completed by the third. Big Rock was put into the bucket first (vacation), some other rocks were put in (work) and all the sand (unimportant or urgent things) will just be poured in as we move towards vacation time.
Life will always happen even while putting the first things first, emergencies, schedule changes, etc. but identifying what is important to you and making time for those things gives you your power back instead of letting life happen to you and always chasing time.
I would love to hear from you in the comment section...
What are your Big Rocks?