While running a business keeps the to-do list full, some recent events caused my plate to be vastly overflowing. As someone that works to help people understand their de-energizers, build mental muscles and habits that decrease stress, and recondition negative behaviors and thoughts, I know all too well what little sleep and lots of responsibilities could do to one’s mind, body and soul.
During this hectic time, many people have asked me how I seem to be managing to get everything done, without being completely stressed out and overwhelmed. The reality is that I’d been working on my resilience and mental strength for a while. I actually used our own product, myEMQ, and techniques a couple of years ago when we were developing it. Yes, we eat our own dog food as the saying goes, although I prefer to say that we drink our own champagne (or a rum and diet in my case).
The key is that it all comes down to energy management. Energy management is a powerful tool that enables increased capacity and positive mental wellbeing. No matter how many roles you play in life, there is only one of you — just one energy source. Understanding how to be aware of your current state and navigate yourself to positive states of energy, keeps you in a mode of optimal productivity, increased calm, and experiencing more positive emotions. This increases performance, wellbeing, creativity and the health of your relationships.
With the holiday season in full swing, here are the 5 steps that I use to handle the hectic times.
1) Understand your body’s energy cycle.
Step one, is understanding how to work with your energy instead of against it. If you do this, you immediately increase your capacity.
Our bodies work in natural cycles of energy. Just like a car running on fuel, we can go only so far before needing to refuel. Our body gives us signals when it needs to renew and refresh its energy supply. However, we tend to override these signals with caffeine, that sugary snack, or we simply ignore them all together. When your energy is full, you are more alert and focused, the little things can slide, and your mind is more open to ideas. When it is depleted, you are tired, fidgety, find it hard to concentrate and can be irritable. There is no point trying to do work that requires high levels of focus when your energy is depleted. You may get the work done, but it will hardly be your best output. By understanding your own energy cycle, you can better plan for different types of tasks at the right time, maximizing your capacity.
2) Use the control you do have.
Step two, is understanding the control points you have and how to flex them so that you make the best choices in how you are spending your time and energy.
We all have control. Even though sometimes it may not feel like it, the reality is that we all make choices that lead to certain outcomes. Therefore, it follows that we can make different choices that lead to different outcomes. A phrase we tell often ourselves is, “I don’t have the time to [blank].” However, we do have time, we have 24 hours every day. When we feel we do not have time, it is often the case that we may be choosing to spend our time in a less than optimal way or we may lack boundaries that protect our time and energy for the things that matter.
We cannot do everything, so you have to choose to create space for the things that need to be done. The things that actually need to be done. This means you will have to say yes to some things and no to other things. This means taking accountability to make choices.
3) Prioritize, because not everything is priority uno.
Step 3, is using a system of prioritization across all of your responsibilities and objectives to focus your energy on the must do’s. This system needs to be something that works for you personally.
Linked to using the control you have, is working from clear priorities. People ask me how I am “getting everything done”, however, the reality is that I am not getting everything under the sun done. I am getting some things done, very purposefully. For me, you could say that everything became, “everything that actually had an impact”. AKA limited, if any, busy work.
Fact, not everything has the same level of urgency and impact. I typically know the 1-3 things I HAVE to do in a day. The night before, or first thing in the morning, I look at the to-do list and quickly estimate how long things will take. Then, I pick the 1-3 must-do items for the day, depending on effort, impact, and urgency. These items are where I focus my energy. I also pick some “stretch items”. Items that would be nice to get done that day if possible. Once the must-do items are complete, anything else from the to-do list is a bonus.
When prioritizing, it is also important to look across everything you need to get done. For example, if you have some personal life responsibility (perhaps you need to make a call, get tax documents ready, have an action for self-care etc.) then this needs to be factored into the day. When we don’t look at everything across our life, it is easy for things to slip, which can lead to feelings of disappointment and increased stress.
4) Make shifts not adds.
Step four, is implementing a shift system to move to-do’s in and out of focus.
Another fact, change is the only constant, therefore, flexibility is needed as we need to be able to adapt. Without flexibility, when something rocks the priority system, or new tasks come in, it can lead to increased stress. It is inevitable that things will come up. That client call, the sick child, the meeting that ran over etc. When something comes up, it is about looking at what shifts need to be made to get back on track. It is not about adding.
Too often something comes up and we add it to our list or try and squeeze it into the day. When something comes up, it is about understanding your options by looking at the control you have and looking at the realistic priority relative to the rest of your to-do’s. I always ask myself, what is the impact if this is not done today? What options exist for me to get this done and by when? And, most importantly, what adjustments do I need to make if I am bringing it into the day? For example, does another to-do shift to be a must-do tomorrow so that the new item can be fit in.
With my shift system, I also know my non-negotiables. There are some things, critical to keeping my energy optimal, that I won’t shift unless something is really, super urgent.
5) Reaching out and utilizing a support network.
Step five, is being able to ask and receive help and support when you need it.
I often say, “we humans can do it all, but we can’t do it all alone”. Sometimes people don’t ask for help because they are fearful of what people will think, they think they should be able to do it all, or they think the other person will say no. It is important to understand that needing help is not a reflection of your capabilities or a weakness. In fact, it’s a strength, as knowing when you need help and asking for it increases productivity and positive mental wellbeing
I find that people are often more than willing to help and, in fact, many enjoy the opportunity to lend a helping hand. If they cannot help, or they say no, then that’s fine, as everyone has to make choices to protect their time and energy too. It is not personal.
At the end of the day, being able to trust others to do tasks (even if they may not do it in the same way as you) and being able to accept help, allows you to have more options and get more done.
There you have it. The five steps I use to get more done. To recap:
Step 1: Understand your energy cycle so that you can schedule different types of work when your capacity for it is best.
Step 2: Know your points of control so that you can understand your options and make the best choices in how you spend your energy.
Step 3: Create a prioritization system that works for you so that you understand the accurate must-dos each day.
Step 4: When things come up, do not add, rather understand and implement adjustments as needed.
Step 5: Lean on your support network to open up more options and possibilities for getting things done.