October 14, 2020

#8. How I resolved my overwhelm with a notepad, a pen & a sticky note

If you read last week’s blog post you’ll know that I had my handbag, laptop and reading glasses were stolen recently.

Unfortunately, none of those items have made their way back to me.

Wishful thinking huh?

I navigated the aftermath fairly well, but by Friday last week my eyes were exhausted, I couldn’t lug my belongings around in a shopping bag any longer and I realised I really did need to get myself a replacement laptop so my business could be mobile again.

And so, on Saturday I trundled off to Bendigo and ‘tapped’ $1,893 on a new laptop. 

Ouch!

I then ‘tapped’ another $219 a few hours later when I ordered my new reading glasses from the optometrist.

Ouch again.

Lastly, I ‘tapped’ $166 on a new tote bag from these folks because the one that was stolen was the only handbag I owned (I’m a one-handbag-kinda-gal).

Ouch….but I nice ouch don’t you think!?

And so, as I sit here today I can tell you my simple oversight – not checking that my car was locked – has cost me $2,278 so far.

THE COST IN TIME

The money thing is obviously significant but it is a tax deductible expense, which alleviates the ‘ouches’ somewhat (although I’d prefer my belongings back, and the money in my bank account).

The equally significant cost to me has been the time it took to navigate through the aftermath:

  • report and follow up with the police
  • call local businesses about their CCTV footage
  • research & compare prices of new laptops
  • determine what my health insurance would cover for a new pair of glasses.
  • evaluate insurance cover for ‘portable items’
  • look for suitable replacement handbag.

All of which probably amounted to $600 of billable time and thus the more realistic overall cost is closer to $2,878.

I HAD A MOMENT

Needless to say, by Sunday morning I was feeling resentful and mildly overwhelmed by everything I still had to do.

I suddenly felt I had a few too many plates spinning and my head was suffering a little decision fatigue.

It wasn’t debilitating overwhelm, but it was enough for me to recognise I needed to sort it out.

TAKING ACTION

Everyone’s to do lists can feel mind-boggling from time to time, and on this occasion I was feeling pretty foggy about what to do first.

Nothing unique there, huh?

Here’s what I decided to do to resolve my feeling of overwhelm.

Firstly, I went outside, lay on the grass with the sun on my face and took a few deep breaths.

Denial and avoidance.

No, oxygen!

After several deep breaths it was clear that my particular overwhelm could be divided into four categories: 

 

  • House stuff
  • Garden stuff
  • Personal stuff
  • Business stuff

Breaking the brain-fog into those four themes immediately made me feel better.

A NOTEPAD & PEN

With that clarity, I grabbed a nice clean notepad and my favourite fine-nib pen and wrote House Stuff at the top of one page and Garden Stuff at the top of another page, etc.

I started at one end of the house, went through each room and listed all the things I needed to take care of on the list titled ‘House Stuff’:

 

  • Arrange quote for…
  • Clean…
  • Donate…
  • Repair…
  • Buy…
  • Hang…
  • Discard…
  • Return to…

I listed 43 items.

I then went outside and worked my way around the outside of the house listing everything I needed to do on the list titled ‘Garden Stuff’:

  • Call…
  • Buy…
  • Calculate…
  • Draw-up…
  • Chase-up…
  • Order…
  • Mulch…
  • Plant…
  • Weed…
  • Finish…
  • Remove…

By the end of the ‘Garden Stuff’ list I already felt 20% better because that was another 41 items that was no longer swirling around aimlessly in my head.

With a big mug of tea I then tackled the Personal Stuff:

 

  • Call…
  • Arrange…
  • Install…
  • Ask…
  • Buy…
  • Book in for…
  • Discuss…

A further 35 items.

The final – and most colossal – was the ‘Business Stuff’ list:

 

  • Book…
  • Call…
  • Email…
  • Finalise…
  • Document…
  • Invoice…
  • Record…
  • Post…
  • Review…
  • Pay…
  • Purchase…
  • Ask…
  • Buy…
  • Submit…
  • Follow-up…

To be honest, I’m actually too scared to tally the number of items on the Business Stuff list because it never ends so I hardly feel I can bookend it with a number, but I’m sure you get the idea.

THE MEGA LIST

After 2 hours I finally had myself a fairly lengthy mega list with everything I could possibly think of recorded in one place.

The next step was to determine what I needed to do to reduce the mega list to a teeny-insignificant list.

 A STICKY NOTE

Nope, I’m not suggesting I could get my entire to-do list on a sticky note…although I’d be intrigued to meet someone who can!

I’ve been familiar with the Covey Time Management Matrix (AKA the quadrant method of time management) for some time.

It’s a framework for prioritising your time that uses a four quadrant system to help you categorise tasks based on urgency and importance.

I have never proactively engaged the technique….until two days ago when drew it up on a sticky note and stuck in on the keyboard of my new laptop where I can now see it all the time!

This quadrant method of time management is the structure I then used to process my mega list.

Covey Time Management Matrix

Basically, I went through each of my four themed lists and processed each to-do item according to the Covey Time Management Matrix.

Those items I determined I needed to DO NOW were recorded in my A4 notebook that I use to map out what important-urgent tasks I need to accomplish over the next 7 days. 

The tasks I could DELEGATE were called-through to family members (thanks Mum & Dad!). 

Things like buy dog bones, collect script, drop off dry cleaning etc. I.e. the kinda stuff you can get your retired parents to do (safely-and-within-pandmic-guidelines) for you; the tasks that should take 5 minutes, but end up taking 45 mins in a small town because you invariably run into people you know and feel compelled to chat to, all of which, as a sole trader, reduces the time available to generate your own income.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any tasks on my lists that I could DROP, which was a shame because I would have happily sent a few that way!

Not surprisingly, it was the PLAN IT quadrant got a serious nudge, and if I’m honest its the one that was fundamentally causing me the most grief.

Why?

Because most of the actions that fell into that quadrant were ‘working ON my business‘ activities; the strategic stuff that needs to happen, but often gets pushed aside to make way for the income generating activities.

What I realised though, was I really needed to make time to do strategic stuff otherwise my business won’t get where I want it to go, and in turn neither will my life.

With that, I promptly made a decision that from now on I was going to run my business on a 8-week-on-1-week-off cycle.

Eight weeks on (being available for clients) followed by one week off (not being available, to anyone).

I’m calling it Retreat Week.

One weekend followed by 5 business days and another weekend at the end.

Making that decision – and blocking out Retreat Week in my calendar – pretty much diffused what remained of the overwhelm, and it felt really good!

Now I know that the important-but-not-urgent strategic business activities will get done, in Retreat Week.

When those tasks pop into my head, I know to add them to the Retreat Week list.

I don’t have to find time any sooner to get them done.

 

Lastly, and most importantly, the client project work that remained on my mega list I was able to schedule into my 8-weeks-on because those weeks are all about serving my clients and generating my income.

It’s amazing how much better I feel for this exercise and how enthusiastic I feel about my inaugural Retreat Week (commencing 24th October FYI).

I look forward to writing about that experience in due course too, so stay tuned.

Have you got a strategy for resolving your overwhelm that you’re willing to share?

About the author 

Cass Ewing

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