Last week was a full week for me. I had a number of presentations to deliver and a full schedule of meetings and classes. As usual with full weeks, I found my priorities for each day shifting by the hour. An email, text message or phone call could instantly change the focus of the day and turn my planned day into a disaster zone.
Over the years I have found some strategies that help when these inevitable days or weeks occur and I thought it would be a good idea to share these with you.
The first strategy is to make sure your core priorities are firmly in place. For me these priorities include ensuring I get enough sleep. That means I will not work past 11pm and I will always make sure I am in bed by 11:30pm. I find I cannot work efficiently or creatively when I do not have enough sleep, and a lack of sleep often results in me catching a cold. When combined, the debilitating effects of feeling tired and sick is a guaranteed way of turning a difficult week in to an impossible week. Experience has taught me this, so trying to be a hero and fighting through tiredness and feeling achy and sick is counterproductive.
Focused Daily Mini-Review
Another strategy I follow is to make sure I maintain my todo list manager and calendar. This means I will spend twenty to thirty minutes at the end of the day reviewing my tasks and making sure my calendar has all the latest updates and changes to my schedule. On busy days, I don’t always have time to be checking off tasks as I complete them or updating my schedule when things change. Fortunately, I am in the habit of capturing everything as it happens and I will be entering any new tasks, projects or changes to my calendar directly into Todoist. I can always tell when a lot is happening in my life when my Todoist inbox is collecting more than ten items a day. Taking those twenty to thirty minutes at the end of the day to check off the tasks I have completed, updating my calendar and pushing off the less urgent tasks to another day or week is my way of putting myself back into the driving seat of my life. On a normal week, my daily mini-review would only take around ten minutes, but when things are hectic, it is important to start each day in control of your agenda and being very clear about what must be done.
My third strategy is to say “no”. Have you ever noticed when you are in the middle of a hectic week, you get more requests for your valuable time? In these situations I have taught myself to be brutally protective of my time. If I get a request from a friend, client or student when my schedule is under pressure, I will always say “no” or at the very least put off having to make any decision, or do any thinking, until the current workload has been reduced and the pressure is off. I would say 75% of the time, I will delay making a decision about something. I will always say I cannot do something this week, but I will be happy to look at it next week. In almost all cases, the person asking for my time will understand and be happy to let me make a decision on something later. I know saying “no” is difficult, but if you are going to be the most effective version of yourself, it is something you really need to learn to do.
Learn From The Experience
My final strategy is to learn from the experience. Whenever I have week as I did last week I will review what went well, and was did not go so well. I enjoy the experience of ‘stress testing’ my system because it allows me to fine tune things and make my system better at handling those crazy times. It is about learning to decide what is genuinely important and what can be delayed or cancelled. In my case, I published my blog post a day later than usual. This was because I made the decision that spending an hour practicing for a presentation was more important than editing the blog post. These decisions can be hard, but they are equally very important. Trying to maintain your routines as well as dealing with a full schedule is likely to lead to a breakdown somewhere. Publishing a blog post a day late is not going to change my life. But not practicing for a presentation could result is a poor presentation and that is something I will not accept.
Life is full of surprises and when you have a system that is stress tested and you fully trust you will always be able to manage those surprises and will always be prepared for any unforeseen events. To me that is one of the best things about being organised — having the systems in place to help me maintain my life at it’s more productive. And now, having come through a hectic week of meetings, presentations and classes I have learnt that my system is working fine and it is not broken. This week is looking like a much more normal week so I can now return to some of those things I put off from last week and give my full attention to them. It’s a great way to start the week.
Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.