By:Deb Knobelman, PhD
Banish anxiety and overwhelm on busy days.
I am going out of town with my family tomorrow.
I have a lot to get done before we step on the plane.
I woke up with my mind spinning on repeat: work, write, errands, kids, meals, cleaning, dog. All the things I want or need to do today. Over and over. I knew I was overwhelmed by this day.
So I planned it out.
And now I know, I have 1 1/2 hours to write this morning. Plus a cushion later tonight to re-read and edit. And I know exactly when I am doing all my other tasks. And which nagging little activities don’t really need to get done today.
The best part of planning the day is that I am not wasting time with anxiety about when I will get it all done. Because I already know.
Here is how I do it:
Make a List
I wrote down all the crazy things that were in my head. It actually wasn’t as much as I thought. When you think of the same things over and over, it feels like the tornado from the Wizard of Oz. When you write them down on a piece of paper, you realize the volume of your to-do’s amounts to a strong breeze.
Here’s the kicker: the list only took me a minute or two.
I did come back to it a few minutes later to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But making the list takes no time at all. Because it was right on the tip of my brain already.
Decide How Long Each Thing Takes
Some things on your list will take 15 minutes or less. I group those things together. In my case, its things like putting the mail on hold while we are out of town. Little odds and ends. I will group those things together.
Then there are longer things. Writing. Finishing up the last pieces of a consulting project. Those each need at least an hour if not several hours. Because I only have one work project left, I know that I can spend the whole “work” time slot on the one thing, which helps.
So, I wrote down on my list how long each thing will take. And grouped together the shorter items that I can do in the same location.
Again, this step only took me a few minutes.
Determine The Open Time Slots of The Day
Right now, I have a few hours that are open. At 4p, I have to pick my kids up from camp. We usually hang out after camp or school and then have dinner between 5:30–6p. My kids have been going to bed pretty late, around 9p. But after dinner my husband usually does something with them, like throw a baseball. So, I know that 4–7p will not be a good time for tasks, because I will be with my family. But after 7p, I have some “wiggle room” for things that are not quite done.
That means I need to get the bulk of my activities done between now and 3:45p (when I need to leave the house for camp pickup).
That still gives me 6 hours to complete everything.
Six hours sounds like a lot of time.
Once again, this step only took me a few minutes.
Schedule Each Activity
Finally, I figure out the best time slot for each activity.
For me, whatever feels most urgent or necessary, I schedule it first. Today, its all the little odds and ends that I need to do. Most of them involve computer tasks and phone calls. So, I will do those first. All together, they should take about an hour. So, I’ll plan for 1 hour and 15 minutes, just in case. You never know how long I might be on hold.
Next, I want to finish that work project. It isn’t actually due until next week, but I know I don’t want to work on it on vacation. So, I will finish it today and not have to worry about it. It should take about 2 hours. I will do that next.
I plan 20 minutes for lunch.
After that, I will do some writing. I want to be “in the moment” when on vacation with my family, so I am unsure about my writing frequency next week. I want to finish a piece today. I will spend 1.5 hours working on my writing. And then if needed, re-read, revise, and edit after 7p this evening. With the goal of publishing tonight or tomorrow.
For writing, I also need to set a timer. Writing puts me in a deep state of “flow”, where I am engaged and lose track of time. So, I set a timer on my phone and go ahead and write. I don’t have to keep looking at the clock. I know that my phone will tell me when I need to move to the next task.
Finally, its all the errands that take me out of the house. I have about an hour left for those, and can pick my my kids on the way home from them.
As I put the schedule together, I realize that an hour might not be enough time to complete all the errands. So I plan to first do the errands that I should do without my kids. For errands like a trip to Target, I can bring my kids along after I pick them up. We should still be home by 5p, plenty of time for dinner.
Which reminds me, there is no time for me today to cook dinner. So I need to plan to either pick something up or find a decent order-in option. But, I know that is the case, and dinner won’t surprise me at the end of the day.
This part took me a little longer. Its a little bit like putting a puzzle together.
But it was still less than 15 minutes.
Take a Deep Breath. Then Execute.
And there is my day. From beginning to end, the entire day took about 20 minutes to schedule. And now I don’t have to spend time worrying about it.
I know exactly what I can and can’t do, and when. I know that there is time to get it all done. And anything that didn’t make this list can wait until after vacation.
Most important, this day no longer overwhelms me. My mind is not racing. I can focus on execution.
For me, scheduling a day is a substantial anxiety reliever. Once I started doing this, I realized that I was wasting hours every day worrying. Thinking about getting things done without actually making progress on anything. Worrying can be a massive time suck.
I like to schedule in the morning, one day at a time, on a plain piece of paper, post-it, or in my notebook.
I tried fancy planners and planning out a whole week in advance. That triggered my perfectionism. I felt beholding to the week’s plan if I did the whole thing in advance, and it felt confining, not relaxing. And if I missed one thing on the schedule, the whole week went into the garbage.
But everyone is different. I have anxiety and perfectionism, so too much structure can feel punishing.
The point is to use this as a guideline and find your own way to get a handle on your overwhelm. We all have a lot to do. Keep trying different things. Something will work for you.
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