Do you need to reset? That’s the question being answered on this week’s podcast.
Hello and welcome to episode 106 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.
This week it’s all about stepping back and regaining control over your time and what you are working on. It’s very easy to find ourselves being caught up in day to day work that has no real impact on our overall goals or plans. To have a built-up backlog that is causing us to feel stressed out and overwhelmed. And to feel we cannot take any time out to regain control and perspective. In this week’s podcast, I share a few strategies that can help you to take that time out and to regain some control and perspective.
Now before we do that, I just want to give you a heads up that my October special offers are about to come to an end.
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Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Ethan. Ethan asks: Hi Carl, I hope you can help me. I am feeling completely stressed out and overworked. I just do not feel I can get on top of my work. I have tried everything, read all the books, listened to all the podcasts and while I do get inspired sometimes, I just cannot get in control of my time or my work. Is there anything I can do that will help me to get in control and start over without taking time off work?
Thank you for your question, Ethan.
So let’s define exactly what we mean by a reset. A reset is where you stop doing what you are currently doing, step back, look at the larger landscape of what is going on in your life. Reassess your priorities and start over. It means no adding anything else to your to-do list. It means saying no to any new commitments and renegotiating existing ones.
It’s quite dramatic and is a way to interrupt a soul-destroying pattern of stress, overwhelm and a feeling you cannot keep up with the demands being thrown at you.
Because of the severity of what you are doing in a reset, a lot of people fear doing it. There’s a sense that you will be letting everyone down—your coworkers, friends and family. Of course, this is part of the problem. You’ve stopped putting yourself first and the demands of others have taken over your life. That’s one of the reasons you feel you need to stop and reset now.
It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in and one you really do need to interrupt.
So how do you interrupt this pattern? You interrupt it by stopping. You need to get away from the daily cycle you are in and step back. You need to take a few days off and you need to get away from your daily routines.
Now, for most, this is the hardest part of a reset. They believe they cannot stop and step back. They, rather selfishly, think that the world, the company they work for, their friends and family cannot exist without them. This is utter utter nonsense.
The world, your company, family and friends can survive without you and quite possibly right now they would be better off without you.
You are not going to be making your best decisions at the moment anyway. Your brain is overloaded. Stepping back and taking a few days to reevaluate your priorities, objectives and systems would be a much more effective thing to do.
You see, when you are stressed out and overwhelmed, your decision-making skills reduce. When you are not making your best decisions, you become a burden on your team. That’s not helping your team.
Stepping back, regaining control of your work, your priorities and your system is helping your team because it means when you do step back in, you step back with a clear mind, a fresh perspective and a lot more energy.
So how do you do a reset?
First stop. Stop everything and take some time away. That means you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers and clients and step away. You have to move away from the cause of the overwhelm and that means you have to step away from your work.
This is where it is often best to go find yourself a quiet coffee shop or cafe and sit down with a piece of paper. And yes, I said a piece of paper. Technology is likely to be the cause of some of the stress and overwhelm and you want to remove all these sources. It also means you have no excuse for having your messages and emails and other electronic communication means open. For now, you have a block on new inputs. So turn off all those electronic devices and just sit down with a pen and piece of paper and begin writing down everything on your mind.
Do not worry about categorising anything at this stage. You just need to get everything off your mind. Project work, commitments that are bothering you, problems and issues. Anything. Just write them all down as they come to mind.
This process can take a couple of hours, it often takes longer. Just keep going until you feel you have squeezed out everything that has been bothering you for the last few months or weeks.
Once you have done that. Fold the paper away and go for a walk in nature. Get a bus or drive to a park or the countryside and just go out and enjoy nature. Get away from concrete, screens, commuter noise and just get into nature. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we have the amazing beauty of autumn and those incredible colours. Enjoy them. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, you have fantastic spring and the warming temperatures. Just get outside and enjoy your surroundings.
Take in some deep breathes and enjoy the freedom.
Take as long as you want. One or two days is a good length of time for this.
When you feel ready, when you feel relaxed then you can open up the piece of paper again and start to go through it deciding what is important and what is not.
What you will find is a lot of the stuff on that list is not really all that important. Most of it can be delegated to other people, some of it would only require a two to three-minute phone call and others could be dropped completely.
The remaining stuff on your list then needs to be categorised into what needs dealing with first and so on. You cannot do it all at once—trying to do that is what put you into a stressed out, overwhelmed situation in the first place. Use your calendar to assign days to the work you want to do (keyword there… “want’ to do) and make sure you build in enough flexibility to handle new stuff coming in.
Now for the biggest challenge. Email. If you follow this advice, you will have accumulated quite an email backlog. The best advice I can give you here is do a soft email bankruptcy. That means you select all the email in your inbox and move it to a new folder called “Old Inbox”. You want to start back with a clear inbox and no backlog.
Now the thing with doing a soft email bankruptcy is that 95% of the email in your inbox will not be all that important. If it is important, the sender will send it again or will chase you for a response. So, stop worrying. There will be a trigger.
The final part of this exercise is to consider why you found yourself in this situation in the first place. What was the cause? Now, I know it is easy to say that it was the amount of work being thrown at you. You have to understand that many people have a lot of work to do but manage to stay on top of things. Usually, we find ourselves stressed out because we don’t prioritise well or we say yes too easily. These are the underlying problems. Not the amount of work we have to do. Look for the underlying problems and take action to eliminate them.
Okay, I know it is hard to take some time out and stop. It’s particularly hard if you are a business owner, a leader, a parent or responsible for sales. But you also have to understand if you are not performing well within your role or roles then you may as well not be there at all. You have become part of the problem and not helping things. Step back, reassess, and come back refreshed and energised. Deal with the backlog and return to a clean slate. That is when you will start making better decisions and your performance in all areas will improve.
I hope that has helped, Ethan and good luck. Take some time out my friend.
Thank you for the question and thank you to all of you for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all very very productive week.