Overwhelmed by too many things? Here is what to do

Right now, there is simply too much going on at HabitStrong. It is overwhelming!

Here are some of the things we have to do:

– Launch two new programs – one on anxiety and another on productivity

– Upgrade two of our existing programs

– Create videos for YouTube

– Write on all our social channels and blogs

– Write this newsletter

And so on… and so on.

The task list feels endless. And I am sure that you also have faced similar situations. So what is our normal response?

Often, we opt to work on multiple things in parallel because they all seem important, just like a mother trying to pacify all her crying kids at once. But when it comes to productivity, this is a terrible idea.

So instead, here is what we did at HabitStrong.

1. We asked ourselves – What are our biggest priorities, which will have the highest impact?

2. Among the priorities that emerged, we asked, which one can we finish the fastest? The answer turned out to be our new program on anxiety since we had already done much of the work.

3. So we decided: Until the anxiety program is launched, we will not work on any other important project. Also, for any team member, if there is a task from the anxiety program, it takes precedence over everything else.

This simple decision-making rule made things so much easier for everyone. E.g., if our video editing team has to figure out whether they should edit video X or video Y, the answer is simple – if one of those videos is from the anxiety program, it goes first. No more head-scratching or debating.

In the same vein, if some task from the ‘anxiety program’ lands on my desk, I automatically give it precedence over everything else.

This seemingly simple strategy totally changes your life. Here is how:

A. Completion has value (and nothing else does)

  • Only when you complete a task, do you create value. In this LinkedIn post, I compared a partly-done task to an 80% assembled car – if you can’t drive it, it is as good as having no car.
  • Completing a task gives a psychological boost, causing dopamine release in the brain. And dopamine makes us motivated, and we feel like taking up the next task. This creates a positive domino effect. Also, completion lowers anxiety and bolsters your confidence since you realize that you are capable of finishing things.
  • On the flip side, if you work on multiple things simultaneously, leaving them all partly completed, you really have nothing to show for all your effort. You feel like you are standing still. It is a recipe for anxiety and frustration.

B. This strategy makes you focused and efficient

  • We find it hard to focus when somewhere in the back of our mind, we are also worried about all the other tasks that feel just as important. It creates anxiety because we feel we are missing out on important stuff.
  • We tend to switch between tasks mid-stream, and that lowers our efficiency, making us even more frustrated.

All this is good, but how do you apply it to your life?

Go through all your tasks, projects, and priorities, and pick the ones that you consider important. Next, among these chosen tasks, pick the one you can finish the fastest.

That is the task for you.

Work on it till it is done – not almost done, not 90% done, but fully done. Feel the dopamine rush. Cherish the sense of achievement. Feel the relief of one less item on the to-do list. And in that happy state of mind, pick up the next task.

Soon you will be sitting on a pile of completed tasks. You may smile now.

One question you might have is – If I am working on the chosen priority, do I ignore everything else? Should I stop replying to emails or doing any urgent work?

No, that is not what I am saying. If something is truly urgent, you really don’t have a choice. E.g., filing your taxes, replying to urgent emails, etc. For those urgent things, you find the time, ideally during breaks from working on your priority task.

But among your important but non-urgent goals, you only work on one thing till completion.

However, there is an exception – if you are so mentally saturated working on your top priority that you need a change for a few hours, you can pick up smaller urgent tasks or even work on the next non-urgent priority. But this is only to rest and recharge.

Follow this recipe to handle overwhelm. Otherwise, you will spend all your life grappling with multiple things all at once, completing very little, and feeling miserable.

The next time you are overwhelmed, try out this approach — in no time, you will be back in control.


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