Last weekend, my husband and I spent 30 minutes in line at a BBQ food truck, only to learn they’d run out of their top menu items. The woman working the window kept apologizing, as the couples in front of us grew more agitated.
I could understand why people were disappointed after waiting in such a long line, the scent of wood smoke prodding their appetites. Seeing how stressed she was, I offered to make that announcement to the long line behind us, and she gladly accepted.
Sure enough, people were disappointed, but no one got upset. They seemed relieved to know the cause of the murmurs up front.
As I watched things calm down, I realized it’s exactly the kind of simple solution that’s easier to think of when you’re not under pressure. In the heat of the moment, when everything is riding on you, it’s hard to make clear decisions.
Here’s the thing: Burnout is not just physical. An overwhelmed mind drains your physical energy at an alarming rate. And a depleted body makes it harder to think clearly, which can lead to a vicious cycle.
Here are five practical ways to break that cycle by freeing your mind of its heavy load:
1. Write everything down. Free up as much mental space as possible.
You’ve probably noticed that everything feels more overwhelming when it’s swirling around in your head. You wind up wasting valuable mental energy trying to keep it all straight.
Getting everything out of your head and onto paper will give you a burst of mental clarity you can use to gain momentum right away. It will allow you to analyze, prioritize, and maybe even delegate. Give yourself a few quick wins that will provide motivation for you to continue the process into the deep work.
If making a list feels even more overwhelming, try this exercise to get in a state of flow.
2. Create strong planning routines. They matter more than the calendar, planner, or app you use.
Chances are, you already have more than enough organizational tools. If you’re like me, you’ve spent plenty of time trying to find exactly the right planner. You’ve tried a dozen or more versions of a to-do list. You’ve tried various apps, debated between electronic and paper versions of everything, and played with different types of calendars.
But somehow, you still feel like something important is about to slip through the cracks.
Routines are key, no matter which calendars, planners, or apps you use. Even the best plan in the world won’t work if it’s out of sight, out of mind.
A few good routines will keep you on track. They’ll keep your actions aligned with your plan, which will be aligned with your priorities, goals, and intentions. They will help you keep track of everything so you can work smart and rest well.
- Monthly Setup
- Big picture planning
- Weekly Setup
- Check alignment to your monthly goals, intentions, and priorities–are you on-track?
- Detailed planning
- Follow-up with colleagues as needed
- Daily Routine
- Plan tomorrow’s to-do list before leaving your desk today
- Make last-minute adjustments (and do your last-minute meeting prep!)
- Eliminate ambivalence and second-guessing by setting daily priorities
3. Choose a few key tools, and use them consistently.
Now that your routines are established, we can talk about the tools.
Think about how automatic it is to check your calendar when scheduling a meeting. You know exactly what to do.
But what if something comes up that’s less specific? What if it requires repeated attention, over time? Things like projects and presentations can require weeks (or months) of effort. Some events require you to plan in advance, perhaps to buy an outfit, or make a dish to pass. You need a predictable path for these things, too.
- Where will you write them?
- When will you look at them?
- How will you make sure you’ll follow through?
Consistency is the key to strengthen your memory until the action becomes automatic. Writing down your answers to these questions will help you build that consistency.
Don’t overthink it! You can run your life with a simple sheet of paper as long as you have clarity on how to spend your time. And the stronger your routines become, the more clarity you’ll have.
4. Know what to do when you can’t do everything.
Here’s the thing we all know, but hate to admit: Our time and energy are finite. There’s something innate in us that bucks against the reality that we have limits. It can even be triggering.
First things first: Nothing is wrong with you. We are all finite. You need rest, connection, nourishment, and play, and you are allowed to make time for those things. That is never the problem.
The problem arises when we don’t acknowledge this reality. We either try to cram everything in, spreading ourselves too thin, or we drop the ball, and feel badly about it.
Let’s look for a different way. A way of honesty with ourselves, and integrity with others, that allows us to be clear and kind.
First, honesty with ourselves. Procrastination is real! There may be things you’re putting off which truly do need your attention. Think about the things you can never seem to get to. Are you dreading them? Are you unsure of how to get started, or what’s expected of you?
Or, are you spending your time on the things that matter most in your world, and saying no to other people’s plans? This brings us to the second part…
Honesty with others.
Communicate with those in your world so they know what to expect, and can make other arrangements if needed.
Considering all the above, what conversations might you need to have?
Do you need to push a deadline? End an obligation? Get an opinion? Ask a question? Ask for help?
At the end of the day, remind yourself consistently of all the things you are doing, and why they’re important to you, so you can stay on course.
5. Know your personality, and set yourself up to build consistency.
The more consistent you are, the easier the rest of this will become. In order to build that consistency, it helps to know yourself.
Some personalities are more prone to starting projects, and others are more prone to finishing. The good news is that you don’t need a personality transplant. What you DO need is self-awareness, and a method for keeping yourself on track.
What do you believe about your ability to finish what you start? Are you willing to give yourself an opportunity to grow in this area?
If you have a copy of Beyond Intentions, you can use the Trail Guide in section five to track your habits and routines and adjust them to your personality and preferences.
And if you don’t have it yet, no worries! Remember: A simple sheet of paper is enough as long as you have clarity. Pay attention to your tendencies, and create a routine for yourself that will keep you on track. Over time, it will become second nature!