When it comes to managing overwhelm and juggling multiple priorities, the 5 Ds of productivity come in handy.
The 5 Ds are: Do, Diminish, Delegate, Defer, and Delete. Your mental obstacles and bad habits can get in the way of implementing them.
Here are tips to overcome the psychological barriers and self-sabotaging behaviors that can stop you from using the 5 Ds effectively:
Procrastination often leads to long to-do lists without the necessary follow through. Putting things off can create more overwhelm, reduce the quality of your work, cause you to miss deadlines, and damage your reputation.
In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen advises that if an action will take less than two minutes, do it as soon as it’s defined. You also first need to prioritize what’s most important to you, then break down the task or project into small, manageable steps that you can readily execute. Carve out non-negotiable time to complete each step.
In certain situations though, procrastination can work. Sometimes you do need to reflect on things, clarify your intentions, and determine your ultimate goal before you take action. Some problems take care of themselves if you stay out of them. Some circumstances improve over time and with little or no effort on your part.
Choose the right things to do. Doing the wrong things might offer temporary relief, but no long-term value. If a colleague fires off an angry email to you, the temptation might be to craft and send an immediate, defensive response. But it’s best to wait until you’re in a calmer state of mind and address it on your own terms. Or you could just ignore it.
Do the things that really matter. Embrace procrastination when it works.
Being a perfectionist can cause you put in too much effort, energy and time into minor things that have minimal value. Perfectionists tend to be perpetually anxious, generally dissatisfied, and overly goal-oriented.
When a task or project must be done by you personally, focus on the most critical aspects rather than the trivial pieces. Perhaps a timely first draft is more important than a flawless but delayed final version. Strive to deliver a good, workable product instead of perfecting the parts that don’t matter. If the client wants a simple solution that takes care of the basics, there’s no need to deliver one loaded with bells and whistles.
Pinpoint what you can’t control — such as how critics feel about you — and let it go. Focus on what you can do to influence the situation, improve your circumstances, and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
At times, being a perfectionist can present advantages. Maintaining impeccable standards and high expectations, and aiming for them, can work to your benefit. Catching damaging errors and paying attention to critical details are typical strengths among perfectionists, including many lawyers, surgeons and accountants.
Diminish tasks that aren’t valuable to others or meaningful to you. Allow your perfectionist tendencies to help you hone your craft, without forcing you to lose sight of the big picture.
Delegating tasks or projects to another person is hard when you’re a control freak or a micro-manager. You want things done a certain way and you’re hardly ever satisfied with the results of others’ efforts.
But in many instances, you need to delegate and hand over control to others — especially when the task doesn’t have to be done by you and can be done better by others. L. David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers Into Leaders, describes levels of leadership in which you move from telling people what to do to not telling people what to do. The levels he sets forth are as follows:
Level 1: “Tell me what to do..:”
Level 2: “I think…”
Level 3: “I recommend…”
Level 4: “Request permission to…”
Level 5: “I intend to…”
Level 6: “I just did…”
Level 7: “I’ve been doing…”
When you encourage others to take responsibility, you free up your time to focus on strategic matters and critical tasks that are better handled by you. You also reduce overwhelm due to taking on too much, as well as boost your productivity in areas that truly count.
Normally, however, you cannot delegate until you have defined what tasks need to be accomplished or what problem has to be solved. Setting healthy boundaries and reasonable limits also doesn’t mean you’re a control freak or a micro-manager.
Delegate responsibility to others who can do the thing just as well, if not better than you. Channel your desire for control into communicating assertively when lines are crossed.
Overachievers have trouble deferring goals and dreams for later, even when they are at peak capacity. They load up on stimulants, work around the clock, and attempt to multitask to get the maximum amount of things done in limited time. But going into overdrive – with no breaks for refueling and recharging – adds wear and tear. Running out of steam compromises your ability to accomplish your highest priorities.
If something is important to you, and you just don’t have time for it now, deferring it is a viable option. Set a reminder for when you will start to take action on the deferred item. Keep a journal for all your creative ideas that require fleshing out. Create a bucket list or someday list for things that call for more planning, but can wait.
Realize that setting goals and having the desire to achieve them can move you out of temporary dips. Knowing your ideal direction allows for strategic thinking, deliberate choosing and achieving your top priorities. But you can still lead a purposeful life, even if you experience disappointment from not achieving a goal, big or small.
Defer pursuits that you still consider worthwhile, but must give way to more important matters and true emergencies. Use your ambition to get you to the next level without running yourself to the ground.
When you’re a people-pleaser, it can be very uncomfortable to say no. You say yes to projects that are boring or stressful to you because you want to help someone out of a jam. You agree to commitments that aren’t in line with your priorities because you want to be of service.
Your time, energy and attention span are limited. Say no to requests gently, directly and compassionately, while nixing the guilt. Consider moving goals off your someday list if they have lost their luster and reflect an old version of you.
The habit of striving to make others happy, to the detriment of your well being, can be transformed into a more positive quality. There is a big difference between a kind person who genuinely cares about others and a people-pleaser who depends on others for validation.
Decline unsuitable job offers, re-negotiate commitments that don’t match your values, and delete icky tasks you don’t have to do. If you want to serve your community well, hit the delete button to clear out unnecessary clutter and create desired space for what really moves you. Give yourself room to breathe.
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Photo by: Phil Dolby