Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or even paralyzed by the number of expectations upon you at work or even by the number of items on your own TO DO list?
You’re not alone! And don't feel badly about yourself.
Since I have been feeling this way recently, my Higher Self reminded me of an important lesson I learned years ago as to what causes us to get into such predicaments.It was a good reminder to help me re-organize and get moving again. Perhaps it can help you too!
Many years ago, when I was working in Higher Education, I was assigned to work under this new Program Director, whom had just been hired to revitalize a particular program within our College. I was used to serving as an assistant to other high ranking officers at the University, so I thought this assignment would be similar. I was wrong!
The first three months were exciting as we were doing many projects and the results were coming into shape quickly. However, six months into this assignment, I started to get burned out and overwhelmed with my task list.
No joke - I had a 14” legal sized notepad, which housed my running TO DO list, which was almost always 3 pages long!!
Each day, I would pour a huge cup of coffee and look at the list, scanning for what was most critical to get done - which usually meant, “What deadline do I have today which I must meet?” That is how I would choose what to work on that day. That’s not a recommended strategy for success; but I was already so overwhelmed, I could only take care of what was urgent.
But the 3 pages of TO DOs would nag at me all day.
No matter what I achieved that day, the burden of the long list persisted, such that every day I left the office feeling like a failure. And each morning, I would face the constant reminder of what I had NOT achieved.
The TO DO list had become the NOT DONE list.
I hated it and I started to hate myself, because it was a constant reminder of my supposed "failure."
After several appeals to the Director for more help, which were denied, I finally resigned knowing there was no possible way for me to succeed with this impossible list of expectations.
And I am not writing this to recommend that you quit your situation. Please read on.
Years later I realized the real problems I was facing back then, and what were some positive, proactive steps I could have taken to help myself.
The first insight was that I was taking on both delegated tasks and projects without asking the Director for more information. In hindsight, I should have asked:
1.What does success look like in your mind, for this thing you want done?
Had I asked this of him before taking it on, I could have gained more insight into his expectations, which could have differed a lot from how I was thinking about it. I would have also been able to explain at the get go, that the expectation was beyond my time, expertise, and/or required more resources to complete. And then we could discuss what resources could be gathered to support my success.
2. Is this a task or a project?
THIS concept changed my world. What I didn’t realize back then was that most of the delegated items on my TO DO list back then were actually PROJECTS, not tasks.
A task is something you can execute within a short period of time. It is measurable and defined.
Whereas a project is a collection of many tasks.
Oftentimes when we think of something we desire, we picture the finished product, NOT the process of how to get the final product.This way of big-picture thinking is great in terms of long range goal setting etc. However, it completely skips over the fact that there is a process of tasks that must come before the outcome is realized.
The Director was a long term goal thinker, as am I. So when he spoke of long term items, I could grasp his vision. Since we were on the same page in that respect, we were both thinking in terms of projects, not tasks. I diligently listed all these projects AS IF they were tasks, not fully knowing the difference.This mental holding of space for these 100 projects overwhelmed my subconscious mind to where I was paralyzed to get even simple things done.
I share this with you because if you get stuck, or feel you cannot move forward on something, just ask yourself these questions:
1.Can this thing on my list be completed within an hour or so? If not, then how long?
If you find you have no idea how long it will take, it’s probably a PROJECT and not a task. You must break it down into smaller bits, so that your subconscious mind can grasp a measurable action step. When you feel a surge of motivation, like “I can do that!”, then you have effectively defined a task that you can complete.
2.Can this thing on my list be broken down into 2 or more steps?
If so, you have a project, even if it is a mini-project, you still need to break it down more.
Once I was reminded of this painful memory of overwhelm, I realized I had made the mistake of listing my projects as tasks, and that I needed to break them down into small, measurable action steps, to where I felt that surge of inner confidence, and that inner voice said, “I can do that!”