Get more done without losing it

The next time you feel overwhelmed and unable to tackle your ever-growing to-do list, try these solutions

Get more done without losing it

Source: Best Health magazine, November/December 2014

‘Step right up! Watch the incredible woman feverishly juggle endless deadlines, demands and to-do lists! See her become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of vital tasks screaming for her attention! Observe how her attempt at keeping the balls in the air crashes into a heap of lost time and productivity!’

Sound familiar? Here are some solutions to help you accomplish more’without losing your marbles.

1. Wake up 15 minutes earlier

‘Just having 15 minutes to plan, think and breathe can really make a difference,’ says Carson Tate, founder of Working Simply, a North Carolina-based consulting firm that specializes in increasing productivity at work. ‘Being able to eat breakfast and calmly make your to-do list can have a lasting effect through the day.’ Feeling in control in the morning prepares your brain to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

2. Match your energy level to tasks

Are you most productive in the morning, after lunch or at night? Tate recommends performing your biggest or most demanding jobs when your energy and focus are at their peak. ‘For example, if I have a project that requires deep thinking, I’ll work on it in the morning because I’m a morning person and my brain is fresh then,’ she says. ‘In the afternoon, I’ll tackle email, because that doesn’t require as much mental energy.’

3. Break jobs into bite-size tasks

Large projects often feel insurmountable, generating anxiety and procrastination. Chop big projects into smaller, manageable tasks that are easier to complete, Tate advises. Create a project list, which would include big ventures such as completing holiday shopping. Next, create task lists for each big job. These supplementary lists will include specific tasks that relate back to the project list: For the ‘holiday shopping’ project, for example, each task would be an individual gift (such as a DVD for your husband). ‘Breaking everything into small steps enables you to get the big projects done,’ says Tate. With each finished task, your project moves closer to completion.

4. Create routines

Imagine completing major tasks without lost hours spent mulling over what to do next. You can do that by creating routines, says Heidi Grant Halvorson, associate director of Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center, and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. ‘The more automatic a task becomes as part of a routine, the less time and mental energy it takes.’

Tate agrees. ‘Holiday routines are settling.’ For example, she has simplified her decision-making when it comes to gift giving. ‘Every year, I buy consumable gifts: presents that get used and don’t take up space, such as food, movie tickets, gift cards and personalized note pads. That way, I don’t stress about what to buy, because I have this routine in place.’

5. Quit multi-tasking

‘The brain doesn’t have the ability to perform two tasks simultaneously. Instead, what we do is move our brains quickly among multiple tasks,’ says Mar­garet Moore, founder and CEO of Wellcoaches Corporation, a Massachusetts organization that trains health and wellness coaches. ‘When you do this, you’re giving only a small amount of your brain’s resources to any one thing, and the price is mistakes, less creativity, increased stress, decreased productivity, and exhaustion.’

According to a 2010 report in the Harvard Business Review, multi-tasking can lead to a 40 percent drop in productivity, and a 10 percent decline in IQ.

To avoid this, Grant Halvorson suggests scheduling time for each project. Mark down on your calendar or to-do list that you will wrap presents for one hour, and then for 30 minutes you’ll work on Christmas cards. ‘You’ll benefit from having a sense of what you’re going to do, and will do a better job than if you’re juggling,’ she says. You will also avoid the health pitfalls. ‘If multi-tasking is a stressor, and you’re constantly exposed to it, it can affect mental and physical health.’