What to do when your inbox reaches architectural proportions? Likely, you’ve been told to breathe, to go for a short walk, or to embrace the mess. And those tips are right on. But what if that’s not what you’re looking for? This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 7 in-the-moment tips to deal with a tidal wave of tasks.
Tip #4: Stop accidentally multitasking.
By now, we know multitasking isn’t really a thing. Our brains aren’t designed to do two or three tasks at once. Instead, we end up toggling back and forth among our various tasks, leaving us with the mental equivalent of whiplash.
Our brains aren’t designed to do two or three tasks at once.
But unintentional multitasking still leaves us whipsawed. Trying to work from home and keep an eye on the kids, holding a conversation while the TV is on, eating lunch at your desk, leaving your email open while you work, or simply keeping your smartphone at hand 24/7 all force us to transition your attention (and then transition it back) hundreds of times.
This works about as well as texting while driving, which is to say, it doesn’t. So if your nerves are frayed, mend then by doing one. Thing. At. A. Time. When you’re feeling less frantic you can go back to googling baseball scores at stoplights, but until then, singletask, singletask, singletask.
Tip #5: The next tiny step.
When you feel frozen in the proverbial headlights of your task, think only of the next tiny step. The next step can be ridiculously small--only you have to know that you’re inching forward by thinking “Okay, now click on the folder. Now click on the next folder. Now open the document.”
Bonus: close your door, stick in your earbuds, or wear your bluetooth so no one suspects, and narrate your way through your tiny tasks. Saying it out loud keeps you on track, helps motivate you, and--not to worry--is totally normal.
Tip #6: Follow your impulses (sort of).
When you’re working on something aversive, it’s easy to get distracted by the tiniest little thing. You have a song stuck in your head and have the urge to pull it up on Spotify. You remember you’re supposed to bring a salad to your kids’ school potluck and find yourself scrolling through recipes hours before a major work deadline.
But instead of following every little impulse, which can pull you into a vortex of procrastination, keep a sticky note next to you and make note your impulses as you have them--”How tall is Jimmy Fallon” “Latest Little Mix album” “chia seed = Chia Pets?” Just unloading the impulse, even if don’t follow through, can be enough to vanquish it. Feeling extra confident? Rather than writing it down, just think it. Sometimes just acknowledging the impulse is enough to make it go away.
Tip #7: Rethink your to-do list.
Keeping a to-do list (and no, a pocket crammed full of sticky notes and cocktail napkins doesn’t count) is the most important lesson from Organization 101.
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, looking at a long list of to-dos can make you feel like a victim of a Darth Vader chokehold. Time for a to-do list makeover.
There are a thousand ways to bring more order to your long string of tasks. For one, chunk like with like: put all your phone calls together, or all your online tasks together. Chunking makes a long list more cohesive, more efficient, and by extension, less overwhelming.
Another method: write out your list in accordance with your schedule. Plan big projects for the morning when you have the most energy and focus. Schedule brainless tasks for the 3 PM slump.
If you’re feeling advanced, try the “Eisenhower Matrix,” which sounds like our 34th president in a leather duster and Ray-Bans, but is actually a method of organizing tasks based on importance and urgency. Explaining it in detail is beyond the scope of this one tip, so go ahead and Google it, though perhaps not at a stoplight.
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