Sure. There is software out there that can be downloaded to get you organized. Let’s say you haven’t done that yet, and it’s late Sunday and your head is like a bowl full of fish of every color, size and shape darting so fast every which way, they become a tangled blur. I have been in that state of overwhelm, not sure where to begin, and with little time left to make sense of the week ahead. I want to share a simple strategy that helps to unravel some of my own anxiety over getting that frenzy under control.
First, select your tools. You may prefer pencil and paper, dry erase board and marker, or whatever you like to work with when communicating with yourself. If you prefer to work on a computer or other electronic device, go for it. The cut and paste feature will make the process a snap. Some kinesthetic organizers like to write their items on post-it notes so that they can freely move them about.
You may use any other resources you have at your disposal, in fact. Perhaps you have a planner that already shows the most important details of your week. Likely, there are many things that also have weight and importance that you did not put in there, and those are the fish darting back and forth like shadows threatening to pull you under. Let’s call them out, line them up and see what’s here.
Start by allowing yourself to become quiet, breathe, and then, thoughtfully and quickly write down every task you can think of that needs to get done tomorrow. If there are things hanging over your head that have a further-out completion date, go ahead and write those down also. You named them, and now they are no longer a tangle of shadows. Don’t prioritize or put time limits on anything at this stage, just write – write – write. This should take a few minutes, so when you feel you have exhausted your mental list, remember you can add anything you wish later as it comes to you. Your list might look like this at this point:
Give the dog a bath
Pick up dry cleaning
Pick up wine – Bob’s mom next week
Prepare guest room
Meet with interns at 9:00-9:45
Letter to Editor
Buy new shoes
You get the idea.
Next, underline the most time-restricted items, things that need to be done ASAP tomorrow. In my case scenario, I have a 9:00 intern meeting. This is number 1 on my list because I am scheduled to prep interns for a seminar in which they are taking part at 10:00. These two things fit together, and so I place them next to each other on my revised list. I note that there will be a 15-minute interval between these activities when I might have time to call the vet to make an appointment, so I insert this between the first two items on my list. Stuff happens with interns, however, so I add a star to the vet call, and note an alternative time. In this case, lunch is also a good possibility for making that appointment.
Continue to comb over your list. Flesh out your day, transferring each item that must be done tomorrow in an order that makes sense. What can wait until Tuesday? Or the weekend? Or next week? Group your remaining items into time-related groups, and then continue to evaluate how to make best use of time when doing errands. For example, scanning my list, I need to prepare for Bob’s mom coming on Saturday. I will group all the things together that I need to accomplish to make Mom’s stay a happy one: Giving the dog a bath (or taking him to the groomer), Picking up wine, preparing the guest room, and shopping for food, are all things that can be done toward the end of the week. Picking up flowers can be done Saturday morning before Mom arrives (or, better yet, I can eliminate this errand and use the fragrant roses in my garden).
After work tomorrow, I can return the DVD’s and pick up the dry cleaning. Make note that I need the ticket stub for the dry cleaners and the DVD’s in my hands before I leave for work.
Following similarly, you should begin to feel more in control, seeing how that swirl of fish is now becoming defined creatures moving about the space in a more fluid and organized manner. I still know I have the proposal and a letter to an editor, but these are part of my work day, and while they are large and important, I trust myself. I know that once I am involved in a project, I find energy to finish because I am . . . well . . . competent! I personally use the notes for these newly organized activities and fit them into the appropriate time slots in my planner. Now I feel less pressured because I have a keen awareness of all the things that await me, and each thing is in its place. Other necessities, even emergencies, will come up, of course, but for now I have clarity, and I can sleep tonight without the added concern about missing something important.
Making this sort of planning a daily or weekly habit, unpacks the overwhelm, increases clarity of purpose, and raises energy for a productive, smoothly-flowing day – or week. It boosts your confidence, and generally improves your sense of control as life comes at you.
Quiet the mental chaos – Write it down – prioritize – group activities for best use of time – and keep track of these essentials in one place, so that you can quickly refer to them as needed. Don’t forget to pencil in time for yourself! And remember to smile because you are competent, committed, and fully aware.
You’ve got this!