What to do when your go-to strategy stops working.
I teach goal setting and time management. I am an expert in this; I know how to troubleshoot challenges and overcame barriers.
Nonetheless, when I tried to refocus on my business after becoming a mother, I found myself overwhelmed. I was taken aback at how unproductive I felt. How could I, an expert at this, manage to make no noticeable progress and be inundated with an overpowering lack of accomplishment?
Trying to grow my business and being a new mom, I was certainly trying to #haveitall. (check out this article by Burnout and Resilience Expert, Paula Davis-Laack)
I needed a new strategy. For a while, I tried to sit down on Sunday and schedule things for the week. I also tried the 3 item to-do list to prioritize and feel more accomplished. I had nominal success with each, but I still felt I was either overscheduling myself or I was wandering through my days without focus or progress.
Finally, I figured it out. I introduced two new strategies that were game changers for me. The first strategy was to have one place (outside my phone) where everything went. I designed a planner that would let me place all of my work and home tasks in one place.
The next step was making a mindset shift. I had to conceptually differentiate between scheduling and planning, and treat them differently.
If something is scheduled, it has to happen at that time. Scheduled items are also locked in my electronic calendar.
If something is planned, it should get done, but the timeline is subject to change. Planned items usually lived on various sticky notes around the house. Putting planned items in my electronic calendar made my schedule feel overwhelming. Now planned items live in my planner.
Let me walk you through how and why this worked for me. Each week (usually on Sunday), I would copy my scheduled items from my electronic calendar. These are the appointments, the urgent items, training events, daycare pick up and drop off, etc. These generally don’t get moved around.
For planned items, I use my planner. In this planner, I do a weekly parking lot where I write down all of the things that need done that week (business and home) that aren’t scheduled in my calendar. Then I prioritize each task using the criteria that Tonya Dalton describes on her podcast The Productivity Paradox. At this point, it’s just a list. Where these will fit into my week is the next step.
I take a step back and visualize myself going through the week. This lets me anticipate how full my days will feel and brainstorm how I might efficiently work in the planned items. This also helps me identify things I may have missed. For example, if I have a conference call on Wednesday, I need to plan and protect time before Wednesday to prepare for that call. Without visualizing my week, I often forgot to protect this preparation time.
Starting with the highest priority items in my parking lot, I tentatively place them on particular Items of the highest priority get tentatively placed in my schedule, followed by lower priority item. This is just a brainstorm though; these items aren’t actually scheduled yet. Each morning (while my little one is still asleep or after he is dropped off at day care) I look at my day. I block time out for the day’s scheduled items on a daily planner sheet. Then I look at my prioritized parking lot and plan which select which planned items I will prioritize that day, and where I will fit them in my schedule.
There is a good amount of redundancy in my process; some of the impacts are subtle, and some are remarkable. Since beginning this process, I rarely overbook myself because I identify potential overbookings when I visualize my week. I get more planned tasks done than I used to. I feel a greater sense of accomplishment because I’m creating a series of smaller to do lists and getting them done instead of one long list that keeps getting longer. And most notably, I have built space for grace.
Life happens, things change, and kids have meltdowns. When I planned my whole week and Monday didn’t go to plan, I would feel like I’m catching up all week. When I plan each day at a time, and that day gets turned upside down or an unexpected opportunity presents itself, I haven’t negatively impacted the rest of the days of the week.
I am better at taking each day in stride and I’m less frustrated when my plan needs to change.
I’m able to get more accomplished because I have a narrower focus.
When things change, there is a smaller ripple effect.
I’m better able to focus on any one task because I’m not worried about when I will get other tasks done. I know I have time tentatively allocated for other tasks at later times.
As an expert in this, I knew there were so many strategies out there. I knew it was a matter of finding the right strategy that works for you. What I underestimated was how you may need to change strategies as your circumstances change. The most important thing is to have a strategy that works for you. The second most important thing is to know when you need to try a different strategy because your go-to isn’t working anymore.