How do I keep up with everything? I used to not know how to answer this question. Typical responses included shrugs, saying “I don’t know” or “I just do,” or some combination of all of those. The philosophy I had was “write/work on whatever comes to mind. It will all – eventually – get done.” One of the problems with that poor excuse for logic was that it took forever to finish anything. When I did manage to finish something, the end product wasn’t near as great as it should’ve been. Another problem with my philosophy was that projects, and ideas for projects, kept piling on, which became overwhelming. When I felt overwhelmed, I had two choices:
- Figure out a better way to keep up with everything, or
- Take a break for a couple of days, then come back and continue as before
I always chose the second option. I fell into a vicious, exhausting, ultimately counterproductive cycle that felt like it would never end. The cycle only ended when I didn’t have a choice anymore.
As we all know, life gets in the way of most everything. That statement could have negative connotations applied to it, but let’s look at it in another light. Let’s see life getting in the way as a positive. Let’s consider, just for a moment, that life is benevolent more than it is malevolent. We blame so much on life, but isn’t life how we live? Maybe life is here to help. I used to see life as a curse, the same way many of us do. It was always getting in the way when I was trying to accomplish something. I recently stumbled over life again and, instead of getting angry and cursing it, I took a deep breath. I had stuff to keep up with, but I figured taking a break wouldn’t hurt. It was then that I had an epiphany.
See how I just said “stuff to keep up with,” and how I mentioned “keeping up with everything” earlier? It dawned on me that to “keep up with something” meant that “something” was always one step ahead of me and that I was racing behind it to make sure it got done. This meant that all of my projects were controlling me, instead of the other way around. I can’t control life getting in the way, but I can control how I go about my life. “Keeping up with everything” wasn’t working. I needed to change. I had to change. My workload was a self-imposed burden of exhaustion. When work becomes a burden, it’s no longer fulfilling. It becomes a curse, not a blessing. What did I do to change? Well, I started by renaming “keeping up with everything.”
- Manage the Load: tell your projects how they’re going to be handled, not the other way around. “Keeping up with everything” is a less effective, pessimistic way of saying “managing the workload.” “Keeping up” says that you’re doing your best to stay alongside of everything, while “managing” says you’re always in the lead. “Everything” doesn’t have to “keep up” with anything. Your workload will do what you tell it to do.
Believe me, I understand a heavy workload. But I’ve learned that how we manage everything speaks volumes about how we manage ourselves. What does how you manage your load say about you?
Now, I know that it’s not going to get easier to manage the load just because we rename it. And the workload will never get completely under your control. There are ways, however, that I can encourage you to stay one step ahead.
- List the Load: you’ll never get anything done if you don’t know what you’re working on. Take a piece of paper, or open the Note app on your phone or tablet, and make a list of all of the projects you have. Whether it be home projects, work projects, school projects, creative projects, or health goals…write them down! We don’t know what we don’t know. Write down as many projects as you want, there’s no limit. Note everything. It’s easier to understand your load when you know what it looks like.
- Prioritize the Load: indicate what you Need-to-Do versus what you Want-to-Do. Take another piece of paper and draw two columns. Over the left column write “Need-to-Do.” Over the right write “Want-to-Do.” Look at your first list and separate your projects into their respective columns. It’s easier to understand what has to be done versus what you want to be done when it’s staring at you in black and white.
- Distribute the Load: all “need” and no “want” burns you out. The ratio of Need-to-Do versus Want-to-Do should always tip at least doubly in the Need direction. The amount of Want-to-Do’s you accomplish should be dictated by having done twice as many Need-to-Do’s first. Need-to-Do’s always come first. If this were a ratio it would be 2:1. This distribution accomplishes two things: 1) You aren’t always fulfilling obligations, and 2) you are getting the necessities out of the way first, thus giving you less to worry about while you accomplish your wants.
- Please note: the ratio of Needs versus Wants should never look like 2:1.5 or 2.5:1.5. To paraphrase Ron Swanson, never do two things halfway, do one thing the whole way.
- Work the Load: do your projects. All of my lists end by telling you to accomplish something. That’s the idea, though, isn’t it? You can’t put anything into practice unless you know how to do it, and you don’t know how to do it unless you learn how to put it into practice. Look at your to-do’s. Can you do the 1st in the Need column right now? Yeah? Then do it! If you can’t accomplish what’s 1st, move on to the 2nd item, or the 3rd. Move down the list until you find something you can do right now, and then do it. And don’t even think about doing any of your wants until you’ve completed at least one thing off of your Needs.
- Manage the Load: tell your projects how they’re going to be handled, not the other way around.
- List the Load: you’ll never get anything done if you don’t know what you’re working on.
- Prioritize the Load: indicate what you Need-to-Do versus what you Want-to-Do.
- Distribute the Load: all “need” and no “want” burns you out.
- Work the Load: do your projects.
For more practical encouragement, pick up my Wayfaring series!