You’ve got some pretty good systems rocking and rolling. Your task app is on point. Nothing’s overdue. Things are going smoothly. You feel in control of your tasks and your time. You’re building habits. You’re feeling good.
Then, bam! Things start to get really busy. There’s some sort of crisis. The inflow is ticking up. Suddenly, you’re feeling out of control and underwater. Anxiety levels are rising.
What do you do?
My money’s on “abandon your system”. But this is the exact opposite of what will make this situation better.
“I got too busy so I stopped using my system”.
I’ve heard that many more times than I can count.
And if you’re nodding along in self-recognition right now, I don’t want you to feel guilty!
This is a natural instinct. When you’re feeling pressed for time, when things start to get super busy, you stop planning and just start doing. You do whatever comes your way.
It seems to make sense, right? If you’ve got more to do, then you need to spend more time in the doing.
But when we abandon our systems, stop planning and just start doing, it’s like trying to bat away tennis balls flying at your head instead of figuring out where to stand so as not to be in the path of the balls.
It’s a losing battle.
This instinct to abandon actually get you deeper in trouble because the busier things are, the less time you have, and that means that you actually need to be more choosy about what you do and what’s worth your time. Not less.
If you just start doing, with no plan in place, well then, you’re back in reactive mode.
And where do you want to be? Proactive mode! Doing the things you’ve prioritized.
So, when things start to feel out of control, what should you do?
The best thing you can do is to double-down on your systems. I know, I know, it’ll feel strange! It might feel totally unnatural. But I want you to push through that uncomfortable feeling. Because the good stuff is on the other side.
The best way to stay calm and ensure that you’re working on the right things is to make sure that you’re capturing everything as it comes in and prioritizing it amongst what’s already on your plate.
What? It’s too late? You’ve already lost control!
Never fear. Remember, you can only move forward. So try not to beat yourself up about the past.
If you fall prey to the instinct to abandon your systems, it’s time for what I call a “hard reset”. (You know, like holding down the power button for 4 seconds when your computer has lost its way. )
Sound painful? Maybe a little. But I like to think of it this way: Do you want short term pain or long term pain? (I know what I’m choosing 🙂 )
Will it suck to do the hard reset? Yep.
Will it suck more to continue to feel underwater and out of control, with no end in sight? Double yep.
Here’s how you do your hard reset:
- First, block out a couple of hours on your calendar as soon as humanly possible. If it means you need to take an evening, or a Saturday morning (as much as it pains me to suggest this), then do it. The sooner you do this, the sooner you’ll feel better.
- Start with your inputs: email, Slack, etc. Get all new, unaccounted-for tasks into your task system
- Do a brain dump; make sure to get as much as you can out of your head and into your task system
- Then move on to prioritizing to your task system with realistic next action dates; everything should have a date in the future. Leave nothing in “overdue”. Remember, you can’t go back into the past to do it. You have to do it in the future. Even if you want it to be done already. Even if it should have been done yesterday. It wasn’t. You can only move forward.
- Then make a realistic plan for the week ahead
- And finally, congratulate yourself for doing a hard thing that will make your future self so, so happy.