Have you ever felt like you're drowning in tasks?
Of course you have. We're living in a culture where overachievement and round the clock productivity is celebrated and quite often expected. One of the most powerful lessons I've learned (or rather that I am continually learning) is that successful time management is really successful mind management.
So, in addition to sharing 5 steps that can help you conquer the mental clutter, I'm sharing some wisdom gleaned from a decade of focused healing from depression and chronic anxiety through the study and practice of mindfulness.
Want peace of mind and the feeling of forward momentum? Of course you do. The trick is to look at yourself and your week holistically and to tackle the basic human needs as early as you can in your day through a tone of gratitude and compassion.
If we can set the tone of our day and our mind with gratitude and compassion, while providing a fluid structure we can start the day successfully and increase our chances of continuing that way. This way, we are building the practice of mindfulness into our mornings and priming ourselves to be more aware of our thoughts and emotions as we take action.
Mindfulness, or awareness of what is happening in and around us, supports self-regulation so that we can prioritize, organize, delegate, ask for help and follow through on the things we need and want to accomplish.
In an age where we are inundated with more stimuli in a minute than the human brain used to experience in week, regulating the feedback loop of our thoughts and emotions has become more challenging and more important than ever.
Here are some tips and considerations for "managing your time" from a neurological and holistic perspective.
1) Journal regularly. Journaling seems like one of those unnecessary nice-to-haves, but actually it's a potent catalyst for cultivating mindfulness. I do better when I make this a daily habit, especially first thing in the morning. Ever heard of Morning Pages? A 1-3 page brain dump first thing in the morning will do wonders for clearing mental clutter, creating more space for the goals of your day.
2) Build in breaks for rest. Planning in time to just be without doing is essential for enduring productivity. This may sound counterintuitive for us overachievers-- hi, hello my fellow enneagram 3 friends-- but building in down time is the only way to stay productive long-term without hitting burnout. Sure, there are seasons where you may need to grind harder than others, but no one can be on 24/7. I used to work every night after dinner, thinking this was the only way to get ahead, but the moment I started taking a couple nights off per week just to relax, I actually started gaining more traction.
3) Streamline systems and reduce the number of tasks you expect to complete in a day. Again, counter intuitive, but check it out: I used to pile on a huge list of tasks into a single day, knowing I could never get it done in the day, but hoping to check off as many as I could. The issue here was that I felt overwhelmed before I began and this slowed me down. Things would carry over from week to week and I felt like I was dragging a giant list of tasks that were never getting done.
The remedy? Separating out lists. Monthly brain dumps of all the things I wanted to accomplish that month. Weekly aspirations of what I'm hoping to accomplish (with must-do's at that top) that I slot in amidst pre-scheduled meetings and self-care routines.
And here's the clincher: only expecting myself to do 3 tasks each day. Just 3. Could I do more if I have more energy, yes. Do I expect it, no. Do I always get all 3 done? Usually. On the rare occasion I don't, it can roll over to the next day, but usually 3 tasks (1 big, 1 medium, 1 simple) feels very do-able to me.
It took me years of trial and error to develop this system. In fact, I created a daily planning system called Piece by Peace Daily Planner that I use every day. I've internalized this system into a series of morning rituals that have changed my days. I hope you'll try it for yourself. You can shift your feelings of overwhelm piece by peace over two weeks. Try it.
4) Use a paper planner. In addition to downloading the Piece by Peace daily planner, I'm also suggesting that you adopt an old school paper planner. Im not suggesting that you ditch your virtual calendar, but use both. I do and I rely much more heavily on the paper version. In fact, I use it everyday and I only use google calendar when it involves other people. Planning out your weeks and months by hand uses a different part of the brain and is more likely to lead you into to flow states and help you integrate ideas and inspiration from your journaling practice.
5) Move your body. On the spectrum of the overly fit and not at all fit, most of us fall in the middle while either avoiding exercise altogether or doing it begrudgingly. Do you neglect basic movement? The law of motion is a powerful one. When I'm feeling sluggish, it's usually because I'm being sedentary. Shake the funk!
Walking, stretching, mini dancing parties during moments of glee, tapping during moments of pain, hot baths, slow breaths...simple attunement to your body is important. Moving because you love what it does for you instead of moving because you want to like how it looks are drastically different. Try moving gently from love.
Simple movements can connect you to flow states and help you learn your rhythms. It also increases the likelihood that you can practice mood and thought tracking, which are also potent tools for self-regulating and building your resilience.
Remember that just like the machines we use everyday, we can't expect ourselves to function well without basic maintenance and care. Time to idle is essential to a healthy, productive life.
Piece by piece, you can prioritize peace and cultivate the patience and compassion to persist amidst this wild human ride you're blessed to on.