The power of getting to one task at a time: Using the “Understand, Apply and Shift” model of problem solving.


This week I realized that things were feeling a little out of control.  I took stock and realized that I have been slipping into the great American pastime of multitasking.  What this looks like for me is books piled on my nightstand (literally, I’m in the middle of 6 books right now), multiple projects that all feel equally important on my desk, 12 windows open on my computer, 15 on my cell phone, and a small army of sticky notes reminding me of stuff I’ve got to do.  On top of it all I have several personal goals that all seem mission critical:  dealing with my fading vision (seriously, this eyes-going-bad-thing in your mid-forties is awful!), training for an upcoming athletic competition, getting the volunteer hours done at my daughter’s school, numerous speaking and blogging projects to complete, people to connect with and ideas to follow up on.

You get the idea:  Too much, too many items, conflicting priorities, not enough clarity.

So what is the appropriate next step?  What would I encourage a client to do in the situation? Check out my process below.

First, I needed to understand what was going on.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I had a lack of clarity and wasn’t properly prioritizing.  I was trying to get to 100 things at once, instead of tackling my to do list based on my top 5 priorities, and understanding what order things needed to happen in.  I wasn’t clear on deadlines so I was feeling rushed when things unexpectedly came due, and I wasn’t putting things in the right order when I was attending to them (for example, this blog you are currently reading was due in mid-March, and instead of getting it in on time, I read my book club book, which was totally fun, but due in mid-April).

Second, I needed to apply best practice principles I am always sharing with my clients.  One of the first things I realized that was missing was an organized to do list.  So instead of piles of books, papers and projects on my desk and innumerable things to do I was trying to remember, I needed a master to do list.  Next, I needed to apply the old Franklin Covey concept of identifying priorities into categories of urgent/non-urgent and important/not important.  Today this looked like:  urgent and important tasks of a master to do list, scheduling to put in my top priorities for the week ahead, and washing the sheets because the dog had a little accident and wet her bed last night.  Then, I needed to take off a few items that I could delegate to my assistant (in the important but not urgent category), and totally eliminate some non-urgent, non-important tasks, such as starting the new season of House of Cards on Netflix (crying shame, I know!).  The rest of my list would then fall into the not urgent, but totally needs to be scheduled in because it is important category.  Finally, I needed to apply some rhythm work.  I needed to schedule in rest and relaxation, free time, and white space, instead of setting myself up for being busy all the time.  This gives my brain and my body sensible time to rest and recover, and keeps me sharp for when I am in productive mode.

Third, it was critical that I begin my process of a systematic shift out of overwhelm into a more structured, clearly identified and prioritized system today.  Not Monday, not sometime next week,
but today.  Therefore, I washed the sheets and changed the bed (poor puppy, she was embarrassed. Yes, dogs get embarrassed, they are mammals after all!)  Next I put together a master to do list. Finally, I made significant, visible shifts in my environment.  I scheduled in my exercise times for the week and figured out what nights I can go to bed early.  I did a run to the grocery store so I had good things to eat.  Then I placed only the books (I narrowed down to 2) that I wanted to read on my nightstand, and reorganized my desk to reflect the projects I am tackling this week.  In short, I set myself up for success at making a change, instead of repeating the same habits that got me into this position.

Feel free to call me if you need help understanding, applying or shifting your habits.  I’d love to talk to you about them!