There will never be a shortage of things for you to do and people that want your time.
And sometimes, the stress from the overload can be overwhelming.
Here’s what I do.
ASSESS WHAT’S TRULY AN EMERGENCY
When I feel like I’m drowning, the first thing I do is list what’s both important and urgent. Usually, it’s urgent things that masquerade as important, which are things you can and should defer.
I narrow down to a list of 3 items that are both urgent and important, written on a post-it note.
Then I give myself permission to ignore everything else.
If you don’t say NO to the many trivial things that seek to distract you, you can’t say YES to what truly matters.
I find that when I’m stressed, it’s often because I’ve been avoiding that big, scary project.
So when I overcome procrastination, tackling the important thing straight on, I can usually get each major item done in under an hour.
I use the “laptop burndown” technique to add additional focus.
I’ll unplug my laptop and go to Starbucks without my power cord.
I get about 2 hours before I run out of juice, so know I have only so much time to get that project done.
I also have a team of virtual assistants that make $3-6 hour, helping handle the basics before they ever become something I have to deal with. They manage projects, communication, and team training– all driven by a tight process to ensure accountability and repeatable excellence.
You can hire your own full-time assistant for as little at $350 per month– that’s not a typo. I’ll bet you didn’t realize you could actually afford to have one or multiple VAs (virtual assistants) to take care of repetitive tasks, so you can focus on strategic, relationship-oriented tasks.
You need a tight process before you hire a VA, else you’ll generate more confusion.
Consider whether you want to remain a one person show or leverage a team, since there are pros and cons.
Don’t be afraid to say NO to friends, colleagues, and potential clients.
Instead of saying “I’m busy”, which is a cop-out for telling someone they’re not a priority, be honest and say “That’s not a priority for me right now.” People will respect you, as opposed to thinking you’re a jerk, since they know you’re managing your time.
You can use a “polite decline” if you’d like, which is to say that you’re not able to right now, but maybe in X weeks. Or even have one of your assistants tell them that you’d love to attend their event, go to lunch, or whatever, but have a packed schedule.
The “elephant in the room” is that you’re probably not focused on the ONE thing that matters.
If you’re an agency or consultant, this means you’re not narrowing down to your LIGHTHOUSE client, which then allows you to do the same, repeatable process across all your clients. If every deal you have is random, custom, and negotiated, then you’ll quickly get overwhelmed by exceptions, scope creep, and problems.
If you’re an employee, this still applies to you.
Narrow down your job role to the 20% of tasks that generate 80% of your value.
Try to bake in time for learning– at 2-3 hours per day.
“The DDD (do, delegate, delete) framework has been a crucial strategy for managing my workload. What DDD does is help me quickly see what are my highest priorities.
If I hesitate to immediately do a task and feel the need to procrastinate versus delegate or delete it’s often because the task is incongruent with my highest priorities. Its at points like this I know I can safely delete with no further action.”
If you’re in a job that doesn’t give you the flexibility to learn 2-3 hours a day or to structure your tasks around your strengths, start looking for something else. You might need a job to pay bills in the short-term, but watch your investment in your long-term future.
I work only 4 hours per day because I say no to anything not critical.
You might have to raise prices and be more picky with your time to make this happen.
And because I work only 4 hours per day, I have plenty of buffer time to handle true emergencies and unexpected opportunities when they pop up.
Are you missing amazing opportunities because you’re overwhelmed and don’t have the energy or time to capitalize when they come up?
The 3 part framework we’ve just gone through is called #DDD for Do, Delegate, and Delete.
This is how to manage your time and priorities through a single inbox where you handle everything only one time.
No snooze button, tagging, folders, or other means of procrastinating, sweeping things under the rug, and feigned productivity.
When you have focus to clean your inbox twice a day down to “inbox zero”, you can’t be overwhelmed.
Instead of feeling FOMO (fear of missing out) from things you say NO to, feel pleased that you’re avoiding things that aren’t absolutely incredible.
“The #DDD framework is incredibly helpful because it helps me move fast and execute on what really matters. Just because tasks are on my to-do list don’t necessarily make those tasks worth me being the one to complete them. I now try to do the highest value activities and delegate everything else. I know HTML, CSS, and how to use WordPress, but those are not the highest value tasks I could be doing so I hired a web dev. You only have so much time, and you can’t get it back, don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that are not aligned with your goals.”
Here’s a simple test– if that project or potential meeting is not a “HECK YES”, then say no.
If that potential client or potential hire is a “maybe” or anything short of a “HECK YES”, then say no.
Imagine how awesome you’d feel when every meeting and every item in your inbox is full of nothing but HECK YES items. No more dread, but excitement like Christmas each time, instead.
About the Author
You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.
You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.