Updated: Apr 12
Back in the day there was no email, no social media and no cloud computing. People worked at a desk, used snail mail and clocked out at 5pm with no way of being contactable until 8am the next day when they arrived in the office. Sound familiar? Nope? Not to me either. The millennial workplace is an ever- changing organism, with remote working, constant collaboration and instant results. This means better productivity, better communication but also much more pressure to perform and provide updates. So, in an era of information overload and constant ingestion of data how can we separate what's important from what's not? And how can we prevent overwhelm and burnout?
Feeling overwhelmed is a huge contributor to stress and anxiety. We all live such busy rushed lives, especially here in Sydney, it’s almost impossible most days to just stop and catch our breath. I don’t think anyone is getting to the end of the dreaded ‘to do’ list. The constant drive to achieve and be productive can run us into the ground and make us feel disconnected and lost.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, I recently did a video about self-care. Two key elements of self-care are setting limits and asking for help, but they’re probably the two hardest to implement. How do we feel when we have to turn down a birthday celebration? Or a work project? Or we’re just too knackered to speak to our partner in the evening? Guilty? Resentful? More stressed? It’s not a fun way to live.
An old boss of mine used to talk about ‘ruthless priorities’. Basically, what that means is picking the things that are most important and discarding everything else. That sounds, well, ruthless right? But if we implement some solid time management, we can discard the most boring/mundane/unexciting stuff and leave all the good parts. This helps reduce our overall stress levels and make us happier and healthier.
Let’s take a look at our week. This is how many hours there are in a day. Feel free to print seven of these and draw in your week.
Now, let’s add in work (blue), commuting(red) and sleep(yellow), three things most of us can’t avoid in a given day (excuse my drawing skills).
Wow there’s not a lot of white left, right? Let’s add in getting ready for work(green), and some downtime in the evening(pink).
That leaves one tiny sliver of white. Not much. And that’s just an average working day. Now, with 2 days a week at home I lose the green and red and replace it with exercise. But still, with only so many hours to fit in everything else, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit overwhelmed, and burnout is on the rise.
So, what else is on the list? I imagine most people’s look something like this:
· Cook dinner
· Wash dishes
· Tidy up the house
· Clean the kitchen/bathroom/floors
· Gym/class including commuting
· Call home
· Time with friends
· Time with family and or partners
· Miscellaneous errands (go to the bank, call the internet provider/gas supplier, buy food etc)
· Shower/ Beauty Treatments
Which things get the tiny white sliver of your remaining time? Most of us defer to ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’ and get the ‘adulting’ done i.e. laundry, food shop etc. But what do we actually want to do? And how can we decide? I use a Priority Quadrant. You can download your own copy here.
I developed this for work, from having a million things to do, a constant influx of emails and calls and trying to keep all the balls in the air at once. A basic to do list was no longer the best option as I could never get through even a third of it. Important items weren't getting completed because they were near the bottom. I tried highlighting key items, and that worked for a while, but things still fell through the cracks.
Feeling like I was drowning, and like I was running around like a headless chicken, I thought to myself, there HAS to be a better way, right? So, I made a quadrant. Working from the top left-hand corner and following the arrows around, I can accomplish key things each day. WHY is that useful? It helps to prioritize. Each evening before I leave the office, I fill in my work quadrant for the next day, so immediately when I come in in the morning I know where to start.
The Quadrant allows me to focus on one thing at a time and not get distracted by the noise of emails, calls, the internet etc. If I'm doing analysis for example, I ONLY do that until it's done, then I move onto the next thing. I have yet to complete everything on the list in one day, but now the items not completed are non-urgent, non- important and can wait.
Looking at how we can prioritize our overall time, let’s fill in the top left-hand corner with no more than 5 things. Could be something like:
· Dinner with X
· Read book
· Wash Hair
· Call X
We can’t manage all the spinning plates. Sometimes it’s OK to drop certain plates (like cleaning).
My husband and I split housework 50/50 and we still have a cleaner. In a one bed apartment. Because there is no way cleaning (which we hate) is getting our precious white time. We also order YouFoodz when things get exceptionally crazy, which eliminates the majority of dishes and food shopping. I love to cook, but only if I have the time and energy.
Quite often it’s a choice between ‘do I want to call my friend/go for dinner with my husband? OR scrub my bathroom’. The second one never wins for me.
So, what is on the ‘everyday’ list that has to get done, but not necessarily by us? Cleaning? Cooking? Food shop (can we order online)?
‘Ruthless priorities’ was a game changer for me. I’ve always had a busy job and active social life, and now I’m studying too. There’s a lot on my plate right now, and even though I’ve had to turn down some social events lately (the FOMO is real), at least it’s for my Graduate Diploma which I’m beyond passionate about, and not because I’m too knackered from trying to single-handedly keep 82039339 plates in the air. Drop the plates. Most of them aren’t important anyway.
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