Do you ever wake up dreading the day ahead? Of course, you have. We’ve all been there. Within seconds of waking up, that thing that has been looming huge in the back of our heads takes over, and the day goes downhill from there.
Stop doing that.
You are the only one that can take control of your day, so start doing so from the second you open your eyes. I know — easy to say, right? How do you control your thoughts? It begins by creating good habits. You can start working on this tomorrow and reinforce it every day after that. I also have a new breakdown on the morning routine you can read here.
I’ve written before about the importance of a good morning routine. But it’s more than just an excellent way to start the day. It’s the only way to take control of your day from the second your eyes pop open. You don’t just lie there, letting random thoughts take over. You have a routine. You immediately move into that routine and focus on it, pushing all other thoughts aside. It takes practice, but it’s doable.
Stay in the now for the first period of your day, however long that is. I suggest an hour for that morning routine, but you do you. The important thing is that you are taking control first thing. Once you have completed that and moved into the work portion of your day, then and only then do you focus on what’s next.
And that is the critical factor in all of this; what’s next. Not what are the hundred things I have to do today. Not that presentation this afternoon that you have been dreading. The key to not being overwhelmed by your day is actually a pretty easy concept, one thing at a time.
But wait! You do have a hundred things to today, and that presentation or meeting later does keep popping to the front of your mind, distracting you from the task at hand. How do you control that? The answer to that question is how you finished the day before.
The last half hour of each day should be devoted to planning the day ahead. You already know what you need to do tomorrow; go ahead and get your priorities set. Sure, unexpected things can pop up, but if you get in the habit of prioritizing your tasks and assigning a relative urgency and importance to each one, you will be ready to handle the unexpected. You will have developed the habit of evaluating tasks and know exactly where that new thing should go. You will be able to quickly and intuitively place it in its proper place, not the emergency someone says it is.
At the end of each day, look at everything left undone or already on tomorrow’s schedule. Put them in order based on actual importance and urgency; not someone else’s made up emergencies. Determine how long each task should take so that you are not attempting to do too much. That is just setting yourself up for failure. If you do this long enough, you will create a habit where your days end in success.
Now, you know what the first thing is you have to tackle tomorrow. When you get into the office each morning, that and only that is what you need to focus on. One thing at a time. When that task is complete, move on to the next one. I know it sounds simple, right? But before you finish with that first thing, you will have been interrupted a half dozen times with other crises.
That is a training issue. You need to train your coworkers, and yes, even your boss. You can’t just train them to go away; you have to set their expectations. They need to know that you will address their concern in due time. Teach them that email is the best way to communicate. You can do this by being responsive and accurate in your assessment of priorities.
Make them understand that you reply to emails at 10 o’clock or whenever, and then always do that. Give them a time when you will take care of their task and consistently deliver. With time they will learn to respect your time based on the certainty that you will get things done when they need to be done.
Of course, there is always that one guy who is untrainable. But if you get the rest of the team on your side by addressing their needs in a timely fashion and impress your boss with your ability to handle priorities, he will become less of a nuisance.
Now, a bit more on that one thing at a time concept. It’s in the phrase, one thing. One. Multitasking is a lie. It’s a myth. People that think they are doing two things at once are actually just switching their attention back and forth between them. It’s inefficient. Best case, those two things will take longer to get done than if there were done separately. Worst case, they not only take longer, but they are done in a half-assed way. Do one thing and do it well. Then it is complete, and you can move on to the next thing.
Be intentional in your actions. Be deliberate and focused in tackling each task. When it’s done, it’s done. Take a short break. Breathe. Do a little mental dance and celebration. That thing is done. Yay! Now, move on to the next thing. What’s next?
If you take control of your day from the moment you wake up and maintain that control throughout, you can prevent feeling overwhelmed and stop from getting burned out. If all of this is new to you, it may feel overwhelming already, but take it one step at a time. You need to train yourself and your coworkers. It won’t happen overnight. But if you are diligent and intentional in your actions and focus on one thing at a time, I promise you; it will happen.