Have a lot going on and can’t seem to get out of your own way? When you’re feeling pulled in a million directions, it can be impossible to make any progress at all. You either flit from one task to the next, doing a little on a lot and a whole lot on nothing, or you freeze up completely and avoid your to-do list all together.
Here is my tried-and-true method for getting unstuck and generating momentum:
- Empty your brain. The very first thing to do to get things rolling is to empty your brain as much as possible. We often treat our minds like containers when, in fact, they’re solution machines. Think of your home computer. The more photos, videos, and files you have on the hard drive, the slower the machine runs. Same goes for your brain. If it’s clogged up with tasks, lists, and worry, it can’t run at maximum efficiency. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and start unloading anything and everything that’s on your mind. Your page will be filled with glorious randomness, such as “mow the lawn,” “throw out hole-y socks,” “call doctor,” “get milk,” “exercise,” and “find a job.” Don’t worry about order or relevance here. Just let it flow.
- Group similar items. Once you’ve emptied your brain, use different-colored markers or pens to circle like items. For example, any task or project that’s related to your health, circle in blue; work demands, circle in green; meetings or appointments, circle in purple; etc. Your brain loves this shit! To it, organizing is a party! This action alone will have you breathing easier.
- Evaluate and separate. Now choose one colored group and review the tasks within it. What, in this group, could someone else do for you? This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily delegate it out, however, your solution-oriented brain likes to explore all options. Write a “D” (for “delegate”) next to those items that someone else could do for you. Next, identify what items only you can do. Be very discriminating here. Don’t let your inner control freak tell you that only you can pick up a gift for your mother! A true example of this category would be “go to the dentist.” Once you’ve identified these tasks, write “Me” next to them. Finally, see if anything listed in this group really doesn’t need to be done at all. You’d be surprised how many tasks you include on your list that are really unnecessary, for example, “go through the pile of magazines in my bedroom.” If those mags have been sitting there for a while, chances are you’re not missing much of what’s inside, so they can go straight to the recycling bin. For these items, write a “C” next to them for “chuck it.”
- Take a break. Step away from your list and categories, and go get some fresh air. Throw in a load of laundry. Grab a snack. Small breaks are a vital part of getting anything done.
- Use a timer. Next, choose one category that you have sorted with “D’s”, “Me’s”, and “C’s” from your mind dump page. Remove all distractions — shut down email, silence phones, tell your family you’re busy for the next 25 minutes, etc. You’re now going to do one Pomodoro round on this category. The Pomodoro Technique is an easy and effective time management tool that helps you stay focused. Simply set a timer for 25 minutes and work on the chosen task, item, or project for the full chunk of time. These rounds aren’t always spent working directly on ticking things off the list. You might spend it prioritizing the category, coming up with the action steps needed to get it done, or journaling about your resistance to having to do it at all. Also, as your Little One adjusts to this structure, you’ll be tempted to jump on email, check Facebook, or visit the kitchen. Just remind yourself that you’re committing to only 25 minutes, and then you get to take a 5-minute break. You’ll soon go from “I have to work on this for 25 whole minutes?! Waaaah!” to “I better get going. I only have 25 minutes!” When the timer goes off, take that 5-minute break that you promised your Little One (or she’ll get pissy), and then come back to the task for another round.
Getting unstuck has more to do with realistic expectations, permission to pout, and teeny-tiny small steps than it does with whip-cracking and marathon work sessions. Most times, it’s your inner child who is procrastinating and resisting doing anything. By using the above steps, you put some gentle structure in place that helps her to feel safe and gets her on board with taking action.
Until next week, keep taking those small steps to Live Out Loud.