It is Spring Break for the kids and I have been blessed with the opportunity to work from home for a few days to be close by. What do we do when we are in our office, with deadlines cranking down on us, and emails, voicemails and txt messages pouring in on us? When you feel like the day is slipping away from you, what can you do to reclaim the higher ground?
I sent this tweet to someone earlier today who asked the same question.
“Take a breath, walk away from the computer, put down your top 3 goals for the day, or hour, or week, depending on your time horizon.”
The idea of how to return to center and remember what is important and not merely urgent, is a core lesson for the working world. Covey does a great job of putting our activities into quadrants and helping us to see that urgent things are not always important. And sometime the important things that are not urgent can often be neglected. So what’s the simplest way to STOP the out of control progression of a working day and REDISCOVER what is actually important?
1. Take a breath. If you do yoga, or want to start, several simple forward bends can be a real refresher. Standing up from the chair and focusing on the breathing and movement of your body for a few minutes.
2. Walk away from the computer. Sounds easy, but we are SO online these days, that sometimes even walking away from the computer is not enough. Leave your phone and your notepad on the desk and step outside. Sometimes, while working within a large company, I would take the stairs to a different floor and do a walk by. Most of the time I didn’t see anyone I knew, and it was a good way to put some distance between me and whatever was over-occupying my thoughts. When I did run into a colleague, often that short how-do-ya-do would be enough to refresh my circuits. Of course, if the weather was nice, I would hit the fresh air and contemplate the clouds or stars, depending on the time of day.
3. Put down your top 3 goals. Often we take on too many things. We have a hard time saying no, or maybe, or later. And before we know it, everything is in the urgent and important quadrant and we feel overwhelmed. After we breathe and step away from the process for a minute, it is good to refocus with a minimal number of goals. I like asking myself, “What are the top 3 deliverables for the day?” What do I actually have to deliver to someone today? And I like writing the top 3 on a piece of paper and leaving it out where I can see it. It sounds simple, but when the requests become overwhelming, and I don’t know where to start, I can look at my top 3 and figure out how to knock out ONE of them.
That’s the thing. You can only deliver one thing at a time. And if everything has the same priority it can be hard to determine which project to work on first. So, pick 3. Then do 1. And stay with 1 until you have finished. Then check the time. Check your other 2 things. And pick the next 1. And do that.
If at any time something more “urgent” comes in for you to do, stop and breathe for a minute. Look at your list. Does the new item replace one of your current to-dos? If it is indeed more important, you can repriorititize and drop one of the other projects.
I have felt overwhelmed many times. And I have not always been able to breathe, walk and reset my way out of the overwhelm. But when I HAVE been able to catch the runaway freight train near the top of the slope, I can often reset, apply the brakes, and move with a much more effective and intentional goal in mind.