This article was based on episode 253 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.
The truth is that those of us who are the most busy are often the ones who most need to slow down. When we rush around trying to get so many things done, we can quickly become too overwhelmed to even think logically. I know I’ve had my fair share of days (weeks, really) of feeling like I’m drowning in a sea of tasks. To get out of that endless cycle, we must take control of our to-do lists and our energy.
To help slow us down is Byron Morrison, the author of "Maybe You Should Give Up - Seven Ways To Get Out Of Your Own Way and Take Control Of Your Life”. Byron is a mindset and performance coach, who for close to a decade has taught CEOs, business leaders, and entrepreneurs in fifteen different countries how to take control and become more effective in their roles.
Byron shares with us simple tricks to managing our energy, creating to-do lists, and setting intentions in order to get us into the right mindset. Because as Byron put it so well, “ Someone who is overwhelmed is often just under planned.” So let’s get planning!
DO A CLASSIC BRAIN DUMP
I’m all about the brain dump, and I was delighted to hear that Byron is, too. When you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do, just take out a pen and paper (or open a digital document) and jot it all down. The simple act of getting everything out of your head and laid out in front of you can bring instant relief. It feels a lot less overwhelming on a piece of paper than it does jumbled up in our brains. Once you can see it all, you can start planning your next move step by step. Create an action plan from these tasks and feel your stress level dramatically plummet.
USE PUSH AND PULL DAYS
Each of us has a different rhythm to our work energy, and yet we’re all told to follow the five days of hard work, two days of pure rest. While few of us actually do that, unfortunately, we also need to acknowledge that a different rhythm may serve you better. For example, Byron had a client who started Mondays strong, churning out a ton. Then by the end of the day on Wednesday, he would collapse. He’d have trouble summoning up any energy for the rest of the week, yet he’d still push himself to work hard because he had so much to get done.
Byron has found that this common approach of working hard at all hours actually makes us less productive. By managing our energy, we’re able to get more done, more quickly, and at a higher quality. He suggests using the frame of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ days. On the push days, schedule projects, tasks, and meetings that require a lot of focus and energy. On the pull days, step back, focusing on tasks that are not as mentally demanding. You might also do some essential rejuvenating activities, like going to the gym or getting a massage. Building a routine of push and pull into your week allows you the necessary energy to recover and come back strong.
In fact, when Byron’s client shifted Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to Push days while making Wednesday a Pull day, he discovered his productivity and health improved greatly. Instead of three high output days and two mediocre ones, he now had four high output days and one medium day.
TRANSITION INTO AND OUT OF TASKS
Set an Intention Before Starting a Task
It takes around twenty minutes for our brains to transition well from one task to the next. To speed this transition and help you focus better, take thirty seconds before your next task to prepare for what you are about to do. What outcomes do you want? What challenges do you expect to arise? How can you best prepare yourself for these challenges? Maybe you’ll want to turn off your phone so that you don’t get distracted or gather all the information you’re going to need beforehand. Instead of just going into a task hoping for the best, arm yourself by thinking things through. This mental and physical preparation will set you up for success and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
Breathe After a Hard Moment (Or at the End)
Breathing is a powerful tool to calm ourselves down in order to think clearer. After any stressful meeting or task, remember to breathe. This stress decompounding approach is used by nurses in emergency situations, and it works just as well for us. Take sixty seconds to breathe, imagining all the tension leaving your body as you exhale. Breathe in for a count of four and out to a count of four. Even if you’re not stressed, you can breathe at the end of a task to mark its completion. This minute of breath will help you reset in order to enter your next task with a ready mind.
SHARE THESE TECHNIQUES WITH YOUR TEAM
These same approaches work for an overwhelmed colleague. When a team member is feeling overloaded, encourage them to do a brain dump. You can even offer to work through their list with them to help organize and prioritize the tasks. And, as you identify your push and pull days, invite your team to consider what days they have the most energy and when they might need to pull back. Try to schedule meetings on push days that align for most folks.
Setting up our days so that we don’t live in a constant overwhelm is a lifelong journey. We need to always remember that preparing our mind lays the groundwork for getting the work done best. Being busier and more frantic does not make us more productive. Figure out how to manage your energy by experimenting with push and pull days during your week. Start and end tasks with thoughtfulness. The more we attend to the flow of our time, the more we set ourselves up for success. Through effective planning, we can live more productive and less overwhelmed lives.
KEEP UP WITH BYRON
Get access to Byron’s “Amplify” Course for free with the purchase of his book when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 253 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.