Digging out of overcommitments

Photo courtesy of libookperson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of libookperson (Creative Commons)

Yes is a very innocent word, that has a way of making you feel good at the moment, and then brings on waves of regret once you realize that you’ve gotten yourself into yet another commitment.

At least that has been my experience lately, as I have managed to become overwhelmed with the number of things I need to do, take care of, meet about, and deal with. Yikes!

Until I learn the word “no,” I am seeking ways to streamline some of my systems and get better control over the flood of incoming information. Coupled with some new habits I’m building, I hope to be able to manage all my commitments without dropping the ball. Or at least without dropping the ball as often.

Here are some of my new tactics:

  • Use my tools – I have all sorts of electronic tools at my fingertips and I’m not making the best use of them. That is changing. One of the best things I’ve tried is Evernote, because I can make and organize notes, to do lists, even drafts of blogs that sync over all my electronics, from phone to tablet to laptop. I have even discovered a plugin for WordPress that allows me to write in Evernote, and the drafts upload to WordPress through Everpress. Sweet.
  • Eliminate clutter – I’m talking about electronic clutter here. I get a lot of email. And much of it relates to private Facebook groups that I am in or comments and discussions on blogs, which are not urgent, but can fill my email inbox and prevent me from seeing the emails that truly are urgent. I have set up some rules so that many of these emails go right into a folder that I can view when I have the time. Really streamlines my inbox and makes it easier to deal with the things I need to deal with right away. Plus, I’ve discovered that sorting by subject helps me quickly read a thread so that it makes more sense.
  • Reduce decisions – At least eliminate making small, similar decisions all day or all week-long. I’ve written about how to overcome decision fatigue here and after the second week of building this habit, I can tell you that it is life changing!
  • Utilize the calendar – It is easier to ignore a listing in a task list than it is a commitment on the calendar. We are trained to pay attention to our calendars, so I’m going to use that to my advantage. When I have important things I need to get done, like prep for a meeting, or time to work on a project, I am blocking in an appointment with myself on the calendar, complete with reminders that chime prior to the time I set up. That’s what it takes to create the urgency needed and the accountability necessary to get that work done.
  • Look forward – Ever notice how you feel more overwhelmed when you are in the thick of things and feel like you are just treading water? In order to counteract that sinking feeling, I’m setting aside time on Friday mornings to do a thorough weekly review, as taught by productivity guru David Allen in his Getting Things Done methodology. By reviewing all my open loops, collecting my tasks in one place in Evernote, looking ahead to the next week to what is already scheduled, and blocking on the calendar the projects I need to move ahead, I hope to get my head above the water and feel more in control of my life instead of being managed by it.

I have been doing most of these things for the last week or two, and I can attest I already feel some relief, more energy and better clarity. I have not built firm habits yet, so there’s still a learning curve, but I have felt some relief from the constant pressure of “what am I supposed to do that I haven’t done?” As these steps become more natural, I expect to gain a sense of control that I have not felt in years. And of course, I am continuing to work on learning that word “no.”

How do you dig out when you are over-committed?