Managing To-Do's

Which of these 5 stages do you fall into?

April 13, 2021

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For most of my life, I thought the answer to feeling stretched too thin was to just work harder.

“If I just work harder, I’ll catch up. Then I won’t feel this way.”

That worked to a degree when life was divided by school semesters and we just had to muscle through final exams to get to our break and fresh start.

But it doesn’t work at all as an adult.

Adult responsibilities and careers are constant – there’s no clear break between work projects, home maintenance, and childcare responsibilities.

When the work is constant, muscling through isn’t a long-term solution. There’s no big break to muscle toward. It just leads to exhaustion.

So, what is the solution to feeling stretched too thin? How do we feel more in control and have more peace of mind when it comes to everything we have to do?

In doing this work, I’ve realized there’s a spectrum to this:

Kelly Nolan Clarity Progression

To get that clarity and peace of mind we crave, we need to

  1. have mental freedom (think: lightening the mental load versus constantly juggling it all in our heads), and

  2. manage our day intentionally to focus on what we know is important (versus reacting to whatever comes through our email inbox screaming “fire!” the loudest).

So, let’s talk about the stages along this spectrum – from having the least clarity/peace of mind to the most:

  • Overwhelmed: This is that panicky feeling where you don’t even want to write out a to-do list of everything you need to do because it’s too overwhelming. Because of that, you’re frozen.

  • Grinding: You’re moving forward and tackling to-do’s, but you’re in pure firefighting mode. You don’t really have a system to organize everything. You just handle tasks as they get thrown at you and constantly worry you’re forgetting to do something critical.

  • Organized: You have the main things you need to do written down in some format (e.g., to-do list, post-it notes, task management app), but you’re not really sure what’s a priority. You do your best to focus on what you think is important but worry it’s not the right thing to focus on. This can lead to you ping-pong between projects and tasks as you change your mind on what’s the priority, which impairs your ability to move any ball on any project forward in the way that you want.

  • Productive: You feel pretty good about knowing what’s a priority and your ability to move the ball forward on those projects. That feels good. What doesn’t feel good is that you can’t turn it off – you don’t enjoy your downtime alone or with friends and family because you always think you need to be doing something in order to get it all done. You also have no clear understanding of when you should say “no” to new work, so you default to “yes” and overload your plate.

  • Empowered: In addition to prioritizing projects and moving the right balls forward, you also have a clear understanding of two critical things:

    • (1) You understand how you’ll get it all done over time, so you don’t feel that pressure to get it all done right now. This helps you know when you can turn off your “productive” mode and just relax, helping you truly enjoy your downtime and recharge; and

    • (2) You have a clear understanding of your capacity, workload, and how they interact. As a result, you know when to say no and draw boundaries at work and in your personal life – with confidence this time.

So, where do you fall on this spectrum?

It’s okay if you go back and forth between 2-3 of these stages depending on the week or life phase you’re in.

What I want you to understand is that hard work alone won’t get you to that place where you feel empowered and have peace of mind. Muscling through isn’t the solution.

To get there and stay there on a consistent basis, you need:

  • A system that helps you organize and prioritize your to-do’s,

  • An understanding of how everything on your plate (personal and professional) can get done over time so that you can take that break tonight and truly enjoy it, knowing you don’t have to work right now to get it all done; and

  • A clear understanding of your capacity and workload so that you know when to hold boundaries at work and in your personal life and can do so with confidence.

These are the things I teach in my six-week time management program.

If you’re ready to go from wherever you currently fall on that spectrum to feeling empowered about how you spend your time and manage all the to-do’s in your life, I’d love to work with you in my next six-week program. Click here to learn all about it.

I’m an open book, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions (you can email me at ke***@ke********.com).

I hope to see you in there! Let’s get you that peace of mind you’ve been looking for.

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