You’ve finally figured out a system that actually works. You’re on top of things for the first time in recent history. You’re in a state of flow.
Then the wheels come off. Sometimes it happens gradually, but usually not. Usually one catastrophic day or week ruins it all. Is there any way to recover? Even better: is there any way to stay in control despite the mayhem?
(If the answer is ‘no,’ this is the worst blog post ever)
And the answers aren’t even complicated. Here are two things you can do today to regain control.
1. Be Essential
The reason things go crazy always seems to start with an external influence. Someone gives us something that we can’t say no to. It’s the metaphorical rock that started the avalanche.
The part we miss is that the mountain was already primed for an avalanche. If that rock hadn’t caused it, another one would have. The only way to avoid the instability is to avoid the overload.
To put things plainly: start saying ‘no’.
We have been duping ourselves into believing that productivity means 100% of our time is commited. If you have free time in your schedule, you’re wasting time. Fill it with something.
You can do anything. But you can’t do everything. – David Allen
The root cause of the crazy week, 99% of the time, is that you had too much on your plate to begin with. Take a hard look at your commitments and how much time you’ve promised to each. If you have a 40-hour job, commit to 30-hours worth of regular work. Crush those tasks and be responsive to the random with the other 10 hours.
How can you possibly do this? Ask Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism. His idea is profound, but simple: say ‘no’ to good things so that you can say ‘yes’ to the best things. When you’re working on something that isn’t uniquely suited to your amazing talents, you will underperform. Worse, you will leave something that you would have excelled at undone.
2. Make a Budget
We hate that word. We think of it as constriction, control, a lack of freedom. The truth is that a budget is the only way to live your life on purpose.
A budget is a written commitment to your priorities. When you decide that you will spend a certain amount of money on groceries, you’re deciding NOT to spend that money elsewhere. You’ve prioritized eating over all the myriad options vying for your dollar.
If you want to buy something but are out of money in that category, you have two options:
- Borrow that money from another category. In other words, reprioritize.
- Say no. You don’t have the funds and everything else you’re committed to is important as well.
What you can’t do: invent more money. (You could borrow, but that’s not sustainable)
Why can’t we budget our time? We tend to overvalue completion. When we sit down to work on a task, we work on it until it is complete. If we run over time, we just push the next thing back. And the next thing. And then we look up and it’s 11 PM and we’re still at work.
Imagine a world in which you give a task a certain amount of time – then STOP. If your to-do list isn’t complete, you have two options:
- Borrow the time from somewhere else. In other words, reprioritize.
- Stop working and move on. This is as good as it gets for this task.
What you can’t do: invent more time.
I recently faced a conflict of priorities. I value helping my students. When they knock on my door, I answer. Even when I am supposed to be working on my other responsibilities. Then I would go home a half hour late. Or, even worse, take work home with me to do that evening.
It took an external voice to show me the real trade: when I allowed my time with students to run over, I wasn’t saying “no” to another work task. I was saying “no” to my wife and son. Ouch.
What are you waiting for!?
Take back control, you can have it!
- Make a list of what you’re responsible for.
- Sort your list by priority. Ask yourself, “If I could do only one more thing, which would it be?”
- Write down how long you’re willing to give each task (note: I did NOT say write down how long you think each task will take).
- Subtract the time from the total number of hours in your life.
- When you run out of time, stop! Everything below here is low-priority, so you shouldn’t do it.
If you find something at the bottom of your list that you can’t seem to put down, ask yourself if it is a “good thing” or the “best thing.”
Spend your life doing the BEST things.
What’s at the top of your list? What lower-priority tasks have you been letting hold you back from getting to the top? Share your struggle in a comment below and you will be one step closer to realizing that you CAN be in control.