Samantha Babington

Life Coach and Author

Dealing with Overwhelm

Recently it seems like my ‘to do’ list is never ending.  As soon as one thing comes off, another seems to fill its place.

These ‘things’ can be big projects or just small chores like making a phone call or replying to an email.

Most of us are familiar with the experience of looking at a ‘to do’ and instantly being overcome with a feeling of overwhelm. This can have the effect of killing any feelings of motivation dead in the water.

In an earlier blog post, I talked about how breaking down a goal into manageable chunks can make a task feel more achievable and thus massively increase our levels of motivation to do it.   Yet, what happens when we feel overwhelmed by all the other ‘things’ we have to do, which are often unrelated to our goal or dream?

It can seem logical that we should just get the small    tasks done first and out of the way before getting on with the big tasks. However, if we take this approach to time management, when the list of little ‘niggles’ such as email and phone calls seems to grow ever larger, we can end up never getting round to the big tasks which are often the ones that will help take us closer to the life we truly want.
So, how do we ensure that we get everything done while still finding the time to get on with pursuing our big goals and dreams?
The first step is to realise that we can’t always get everything done. Some things will just have to be left for later or not done at all.
Yet, which tasks do we leave for later and which do we get on with first?

The answer is to stick to the 80/20 Rule. This means that 80% of productivity will result from just 20% of what we do. It is therefore this 20% of tasks we really need to get to grips with if we are to achieve the most from our lives.

However, it is knowing what these actions are, when to do these things and for how long that is the key to effective time management.

So, how to we apply the 80/20 Rule?

Here is a simple, step-by-step guide:-

1. Identify the all-important 20% of tasks. These will be the tasks that will move you towards your goals and help you transform your life. You need to be spending 80% of your time on these things.

In order to identify these tasks, think carefully about your goals. What are the actions that will truly contribute to moving you further forward? These are the tasks you need to tackle first and really get stuck into if you are to start living the life of your dreams.

2. Identify the remaining 80% of tasks and spend just 20% of your time on these. These tasks will be anything that is either a chore or an action that, once done, will keep you ticking along pretty much as you are but won’t directly take you closer to achieving your goals.

Examples will be things such as emails, filing, household chores, phone calls, shopping and errands. They also include ‘time sucks’, which are things that can get you drawn into and stuck on longer than you originally planned, such as social media, internet surfing, or flicking through the TV channels.

3. Schedule in the important 20% of tasks and prioritise these. These tasks should be top of your ‘to do list’ and you should be spending 80% of your time on them. To help you to do this it is important to physically write them down and schedule them into your diary so you know exactly when you are going to do them.

4. Schedule in a block of time for less important 80% of tasks. Only 20% of your time should be spent on these tasks. I often schedule in an hour at the end of the day specifically for what I consider either chores or admin tasks. Leaving these tasks until the end of the day ensures that I don’t get stuck on endless time-sucks and helps me keep to my plan of only spending 20% of my time on them!

So, wherever possible, stick to the 80/20 and you will find yourself always in control of your ‘to do’ list and moving forward with your goals with lightning speed.
Finally, if statistics really aren’t your thing and you are more of a visual learner, there is a wonderful analogy that will help you understand and stick to this rule.
A professor of philosophy stood before his students. He picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was full.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles, poured them into the jar and the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured this into the jar. The sand appeared to fill the remaining open areas of the jar. He then asked if the glass was full.

The students agreed that it finally was full.

The professor then filled the jar with water, which then soaked into the sand.

The professor then said “This jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand and the water signifies the remaining “small stuff”.

If you put sand and water into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

So, what are your rocks and pebbles, and what is your sand and water?

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