How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmingly Busy

by Francisco Saez

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Pursuit of Mastery.

October 22, 2012

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October 22, 2012

Are you always busy? Do you often feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to do? If you have entered a cycle where you don’t even have time to think, you can be sure that while you are doing many things, most of them will not make any real difference in your sense of being overwhelmed. Sometimes being busy is just a form of lazy thinking and ineffective action.

It may be normal that you feel overwhelmed in a given moment due to an exceptional situation or an unusual accumulation of demands. But if you are feeling overwhelmed all the time by all your commitments, it is a clear sign of lack of organization or poor organization. To break this cycle, follow these four steps:

  1. Learn. Doing less is the path to be productive. You must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, and it can take some time. The first thing you have to do is stop and reflect until you have a clear picture of your long-term goals. Write down all the tasks you usually do, the effort they require, and the value they bring to your life. You will probably have to try a lot until you identify what things pull the most weight and what things require too much effort not to make any difference.
  2. Select. Use the 80/20 rule (see chapter one) and devote your time to priority tasks that bring the most value with less effort. Schedule these tasks with very quick deadlines. Remember Parkinson’s Law: If you schedule five hours for a task that can be done in three hours, it will inevitably take you five hours.
  3. Remove. Focus on a few important things and forget the rest. You should not have more than two or three critical tasks each day. If you think you have more, honestly ask yourself, “What will happen if I do not do this today?” Focus on maintaining a good “low-information diet” and reduce the amount of distractions that come from emails, social networks, apps, messages, and phone calls. All this contributes largely to that overwhelming feeling of being so busy all the time.
  4. Act. First of all, do the critical tasks, from start to finish, with no distractions. You will see how good you feel when the most important tasks of the day are already done at 11am. Devoting a couple of hours to do a high impact task can be much more productive than spending all day doing minutiae. In the first scenario you will feel productive and relaxed; in the second one, you will feel busy and stressed.
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