College students, young professionals and even some not so young professionals can become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of life. Every time they turn around there is something else demanding attention. It can feel like trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon. As a coach or manager you can either ignore someone drowning under their “to do’s” or you can offer guidance. I would contend it is better for everyone if you choose the latter. And if you recognize yourself as being that overwhelmed person, having the skills to dig yourself out can be a lifesaver.
A few pointers to get you started:
Recognize the signs of distress – People who feel like they have too much to do and too little time can be found at either extreme of the busy spectrum. They will either be involved in a constant flurry of activity, jumping from one task to another without actually finishing anything or they will be at a complete standstill, unable to even figure out where to start. Noticing when someone is in one of those places is the first step to helping them.
Create order in the chaos – When there is lots to get done our brains often throw constant “reminders” at us because we are worried about forgetting something. Trying to keep track of things in our head hampers our ability to focus. I know that making a list sounds mundane and time consuming. But having everything on paper will allow you and the person you are trying to help sort and organize each item individually rather than trying to look at a nebulous mass of demands. Creating a list is well worth the time spent.
Create and fill buckets – Family, friends, work, school, athletics, social, community, etc. Life always has buckets. Figure out which ones apply and put the tasks that belong together in the same bucket. It is also helpful to put the buckets in order of importance.
Which priorities belong to whom – Once you have tasks in buckets it is time to prioritize. But think about why a certain task has priority. It is important to the individual you are helping or is someone else in their life demanding it be a priority? I am not saying one should necessarily have more weight than the other. I’m just saying that understanding where the pressure is coming from is important.
Create smaller pieces – Take the top priority from the most important bucket and break it down into individual tasks. For example: Getting to soccer practice on time might include laundering practice gear, locating cleats, packing a snack, purchasing sports drinks and filling the car with gas. By themselves each task is manageable. As a whole, ten minutes before you should be walking out the door they are overwhelming. Do this for the first one or two priorities in each bucket.
Create a timeline – Determine when each priority needs to be done and back track to figure out when the small tasks that make up the priority must be accomplished. Combine small tasks that make sense to be done together (start a load of laundry, go to the bank, get gas, buy sports drinks, return and move the laundry to the dryer).
Dig in – Start plugging away at those small tasks. It is amazing how quickly they add up to big projects being completed.
Pat yourself on the back – Don’t forget to notice your progress. Cross things off the list as you finish them. Be proud of yourself for moving forward.
Repeat – Maintaining a running list of priorities that have been broken into tasks will help keep you on top of things and ward off that overwhelmed feeling that creates stagnation. The bonus is once you have a list it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to continue using it.
I have often said my life feels like I am digging seventeen ditches at once and I can only move about twenty shovels of dirt a day. I can use all twenty on one ditch or I can make a little more than one shovel’s worth of progress in each ditch. Each day the choice is mine. As long as the ditches are being dug and I remember to notice the progress I can be happy.
Teaching someone to how to eat an elephant one bite at a time is a skill they will use for a lifetime. Do you have any pointers on how you accomplish great things? Let us know!
Next week: The Changing of the Guard – how to make sure knowledge and skills don’t get lost when a team member moves on
Last week we discussed how ambiguity kills performance and what to do about it. Read it here if you missed it.