Sometimes, you’re just humming along, minding your own business, feeling pretty good about how things are going when, wham, you get knocked off course.

You get sick and you’re out of commission for a few weeks.

You have a family emergency.

Your water heater fails when you’re thousands of miles from home and you have to drop everything to get it replaced and avoid a flood. (Too specific? Yep, that example is straight from my own library of memories.)

Or maybe, things have just started to pile on slowly. Things were working well, but every day adds just a little bit more than you can handle and all of a sudden you feel buried. You’re not handling it. And you’re not sure how you’ll get back on track.

And when this happens, it can be demoralizing because you’re thinking “but I had planned so well, and now my planning is all for naught”. And, you’re not sure how to get back on track again. And maybe you feel just a little bit (or a lot) like a failure.

But I can assure you: you’re not.

Every scenario above is just part of life. Stuff happens. Things don’t go perfectly to plan.

And that’s ok.

And there’s good news! Because there’s actually a single strategy that will work any time you’re starting to feel like you’re underwater.

What’s this magic strategy? The “hard reset”.

Think of this strategy like holding the power key down on your laptop for 4 seconds to force it to reboot.

You’re going to apply a similar strategy because you’ve found yourself in a situation that can’t be chipped away at. Drastic measures are required.

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Check your calendar to figure out when you can carve out a couple of hours to get things back under control, as soon as possible. Block that time.
  2. Once there, open up your email.
    • If you have 100s, or even thousands, use the inbox 0 process to archive everything older than a certain date.
    • Once you’re down to a number that seems reasonable to process in the next hour or 2, start using the One Touch Rule to process your email and add any tasks to your task system
  3. Repeat step 2 for any other input sources where stuff might have been piling up (Slack, post-its, a notebook, etc.)
  4. Once you’ve captured all the new tasks in your task system, start ruthlessly reprioritizing.
    • Sort your task system by date
    • Start with the “overdue” items and work your way forward.
    • For each item, ask yourself:
      • When will I do the next step (realistically)? 
      • Check your calendar and block the time you need if it’s a chunky step.
      • Update the next action date.
    • Keep going until you’ve got a reasonable next week ahead of you. (And don’t worry about what’s in your task system past this next week. You’ll catch the rest when you do end-of-week planning, right? 🙂 )

Why so drastic? Isn’t there a gentler, less time consuming approach.

In a word: No.

Here’s how I think about it.

When you’ve found yourself in this situation, you can choose “short term pain” or “long term pain”. That’s it.

The method described above is the “short term pain” solution. Is it fun to block off a few hours to get yourself back to “zero”? Not really. But if the alternative is digging myself out for weeks, a little at a time, while things are continuing to pile up, I’ll take that short term pain anytime. Instead of feeling stressed for weeks to come, I can condense that to a single block of time and feel back on top of things today.

What do you choose?