What’s On Your Mind? Do That.
Part of the problem with overwhelming to-do lists is not knowing where to start. Experience has taught me that if you want to know the most important task on your list, it’s the one most on your mind.
What do I mean by “most on your mind”? That’s the task that is bothering you. Your mind keeps returning to it and giving you a little nudge.
There’s a reason why this is on your mind. It’s because you fear that this task will take a long time to complete, so you need to start it right away, or there’s a feeling something urgent is lurking, and if you don’t do something about it, it will blow up in your face.
Our brains are incredible devices. They evolved to keep us alive. This is why our brains filter out 90% of what is going on around us. It would be impossible for your brain to process everything your eyes see.
To test this:
- Look around the room you are in now.
- Look for anything that is coloured blue.
- Look everywhere, top, bottom, left, and right.
- Focus all your attention on everything in the room that is the colour blue.
Now, close your eyes and find everything in the room that is the colour red.
Okay, open your eyes and look for red. How many red items did you find? How many do you see now? Likely a lot less.
Our brains and our senses evolved to find danger, and as we are not always conscious of all our senses at any one time, our instincts kick in and start to warn us something is wrong by drawing our attention to anything it senses is not right. This is why you will often find a task you have written into your task manager stays in your mind. It’s your instincts telling you that this task needs doing.
Now you can fight this thought if you wish, but if you want a clear mind to focus on your work, you will find doing whatever is on your mind will give you greater clarity throughout the day.
What do you do about a long, overwhelming list?
If you have a long list of tasks and are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by it, the best thing you can do is stop doing what you are doing and go through the list task by task. Select the ten tasks that stand out to you. Let your unconscious brain do the work. You will find that when you select ten tasks and commit to completing those before doing anything else, you will instantly feel better, more focused, and a lot less overwhelmed.
Another way of prioritising is to go by the deadline date. Pick the tasks that are due first. We start to feel stressed because we have a looming deadline, and our brains will be telling us we don’t have enough time to complete the task before the deadline.
This is often not the case; our brains are apt to panic if you have not allocated sufficient time to complete a task. To overcome this, find the tasks that have a deadline this week, assign those tasks to be done this week and schedule time on your calendar for getting them done.
A couple of weeks ago I had a seminar to do for a client company. Even though I had prepared the slide deck, I did need to finish the workbook, and as the seminar day approached, my brain went into overdrive — I was constantly thinking about the workbook. To stop this thought from reoccurring, all I had to do was flag the task “complete workbook for the seminar” and schedule a two-hour block on my calendar for Monday afternoon. Once the task was on my calendar, my brain relaxed and let go of the thought.
I knew I had time to complete the workbook. The blocked time on my calendar gave me a sufficient gap between completing the workbook and doing the seminar — just in case I did require a little more time to complete the task.
However, this only works if you trust your calendar. If you regularly put things on your calendar and then ignore them, you will never trust your calendar and the power of your calendar diminishes. You have to have one place among your productivity tools you trust. Task managers are hard to trust because while we may be good at getting things into our task manager, your task manager is not a good time manager. All a task manager does is tell you what tasks need doing, not whether you have enough time to do those tasks.
Only your calendar can tell you whether you have enough time. So if you have something that needs doing and want to get it off your mind, you need to schedule the time for it on your calendar.
So, whenever you feel stressed out and overwhelmed, stop and look at what is on your mind. You will find once you have dealt with that — whatever it is — you will soon stop feeling stressed out and get back to ensuring you are working on the genuinely important things.
If you want to learn more about prioritising your tasks more effectively, then the Time Sector System is the place to start. You can find more information on this right here.
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