How to Take Control of Your To-Do List

We have something to admit. #truthtime

Occasionally, we get so overwhelmed with client work, deadlines, last-minute requests, proposals, and, well, life in general, that we miss a week of the Weekly Slice. 🙈 

We're so ashamed! It's something we tell our clients all the time: "If you're going to commit to a weekly newsletter, you have to do it every week!" But we also completely understand what it's like to be trapped under a work-and-life avalanche, because that's where we've been for the past two weeks.

So, we decided to learn from this challenge and share some things we'll be committing to this month, in order to help us better manage our time, our team, and our general work/life balance. Let's call it the "Get a Jump on June Challenge." Ready?

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Cut Out the Noise

Do you tend to listen to music while you work? Or maybe throw on a podcast while you're doing some tasks that aren't that complicated? Maybe there's a TV in the background, or maybe you work in a coffee shop or an open office. Sit back and listen for a second to what's around you right now. How much noise and information is pouring into your brain while you're trying to focus?

The first thing we're going to work on is giving our ears and brains a little break. That means shutting off the podcasts and saving them for the gym, and finding music without words or in a language we don't understand. Trying to take in two competing forms of information -- in our case, reading words and hearing words at the same time -- creates a conflict and makes it harder to focus on the task at hand. However, it doesn't always have to be classical music or silence; when you're doing tasks that you find boring or repetitive, like updating metrics reports, having music in the background can actually keep you more focusedCreate an environment that helps you, rather than hinders you, and find ways to remove the extra noise.

One other note on words: We don't know about you, but we are finding ourselves turning on a podcast more and more whenever there's time in the day for it. Commuting, making dinner, cleaning around the house, going for a run... Suddenly, the only time we're really alone with our thoughts is when we're trying to go to sleep! Think about your day and your habits; if you're a podcast-addict, or you can't remember the last time it was quiet, it's time to hit pause and give our ears (and our brains) a break.

Set Your Priorities

There you are, sitting at your desk, working away, when suddenly... ping! A message has arrived! It looks important, so you click over to read it and write up a response. Then, suddenly... ping! Ping... ping! A few more emails, and, a few minutes later, a few more. And they all look important!

It's easy to get caught up in the pings and dings of people who need answers from you, but it can completely throw your work-flow off track. On the flip side, if you ignore your emails for too long, it's easy to lose track of a message thread or forget that someone asked you for something inside of one of those emails, and they need it tomorrow.

There's a simple way to stop and take stock. Find at least 30 minutes today where you won't get a phone call and you can really focus, and pull out a notebook. Maybe the end of the day is the only chance you'll have, or maybe you need a breather from whatever you're working on; doesn't matter, but that 30 minutes is time for you to open your inbox and go through your messages, writing down anything you need to do today and things you need to do later. We do this on paper, partially because the act of writing down the task helps us remember to do it, and so that the paper sitting on our desk acts as a physical reminder that there are some things we just have to finish today.

One trick we learned recently: A friend of ours doesn't like Post-It notes, so she writes her must-do tasks on small Post-Its on her desk. Her dislike of them is motivation to complete the task, so she can get rid of them! 

Grind

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and work. There's not much else to say about it; if you have a lot that needs to get done, and you don't want to just give up and walk away, just grind it out. Stay up late. Do what you have to do. Get it done. Email us if you need emotional support.

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Delegate

Be honest: When was the last time you asked for help? 

We're not just talking about your work life; we mean help with anything, like child care or laundry or, heck, even just asking for your partner to bring you a cup of coffee in the morning. Regardless of your situation, there are likely people around you who care about you and want to assist, even in small ways. Use that team!

If you're like us, we're betting that you're the type of person who's the first to offer help when someone else needs it, but maybe you don't want to be a burden on others. Or maybe you just know that you're capable (oh, so capable!) so you should just do everything. 

Whatever the reason you're not asking for help, take a moment to think about your support system, both for your business and in your life, and consider relying on it just a little bit. If you're a solo operator, are there small investments you could make in an extra pair of hands, like a virtual assistant (we just finally hired someone!), who could take some things off of your list?

Pull that trusty notebook back out and make a list of tasks that you would l-o-o-o-ve someone else to handle, in an ideal world. No judgment, either; write down anything at all that you would be overjoyed to see someone else do. 

Now, think about each task and see if there's anyone around you who could take at least part of it on. If you need help with your kids, could your partner help out more, or could you hire a babysitter one evening a week? If you are struggling with project management, could you shift your responsibilities around within your team, or could you ask your business contacts if they know anyone looking for part-time work? Write down a name or who you could hire beside each task. You may not be able to get help with every single thing on the list right away, but this might open your eyes to the possibilities, and hopefully spur you to ask your support system for a little more support when you need it the most. 

Do Some Productive Venting

Somewhere within that support system of yours is a good friend, a business buddy, a spirit twin, or a trusted confidante who will let you let it out. We promise. So think for a bit about a person who you can really talk to, who will give you a bit of their time to let you talk out what you're dealing with and brainstorm some creative solutions for handling your challenges. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee, and allow yourself that hour to connect to someone else and get some perspective. It's a moment to get out of your own head and step away from your inbox, which can reinvigorate you when you come back and inspire some new approaches to your work.

TGL Founder Katie recently organized a regular call with two other business-owning friends. Every other Tuesday, the group shows up on Google Hangouts and each person brings a business challenge to the metaphorical table, and, as a group, we solve it. Steal this idea and form your own mastermind; it's invaluable, and fun!

How do you deal with stress? Share your ideas and we'll add them to a future Slice, which will always be in your inbox, every week, no matter what. We got this! 💪