What if this could be easy?
Like many, I often find myself overwhelmed by lists of things to do, places to be, stuff to fix, work to complete. Sometimes the feeling creates a burst of energy and I go crazy, getting heaps of "stuff" done, until I burn out and crash. Others times I simply give up, before I even start.
Neither of these extreme approaches is helpful. But I also don't like the in-between feeling. The one where you are doing things, ticking off the list slowly, all the while carrying the constant feeling of being overwhelmed from each task to the next.
Earlier this year, I read a book called Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most, by Greg McKeown
It's a great book.
Fun to read, simple to understand, and easy to apply.
Greg's goal, making it easier to do what matters most, is what attracted me to the book.
I'm still re-reading and learning to apply Greg's approaches. He has fifteen in total, broken into three stages : effortless state, effortless action, effortless results. I've a way to go yet but it has already made a significant difference to how I tackle things, and controlling that feeling of being overwhelmed.
Rather than explain all of Greg's approaches in detail - his book is far better at that than I could ever achieve - I will focus on a few which have resonated strongly with me so far, and give a sample question I might pose to myself to align with the approach, and then an example of how I have applied it.
"What if this could be easy?"
We use the term 'hard work', like it's a badge of honour. What's so good about working hard? Wouldn't it be better to work easy? What if we tried to simplify the things we had to do?
Sometimes before I start a task I look at all the things which I could do to make it perfect. I want a single, clean sweep. I will rewrite this chapter, or this paragraph, and then I will never have to come back to it. I spend ages defining all the things I need to consider so that, when I finally get to the writing, I'm too worn out to do it well. Instead now, I try to take a simplified approach - what one or two things do I really want to get write in this pass. Do those and, later, comeback for the other things if I need to.
"What if this could be fun?"
I don't mind cooking, and sometimes I even enjoy it, but if if I am honest, mostly it has, in the past, seemed like a chore. One of the suggestions from Greg was to look at tasks you have to do, which you don't really enjoy, and pair them with something you do.
I love music, so now, I always put on some tunes and have a bit of kitchen disco party, or play a bit of air guitar, while I am preparing dinner.
"How will finishing this today affect my tomorrow?"
I've always liked to finish what I start, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sometimes though this might mean completing it to the detriment of something, or someone, else.
Now, I am trying to learn how to stop short; to finish midway through a chapter I am writing, or a task I am doing, knowing I can come back to it later, refreshed. It's not easy. The perfectionist wants to finish, but I tell him we will, just not right now. Slowly he's starting to understand the value of taking a break.
"What does done look like?"
Ever start something without clarity on what it is you are trying to do and come out at the end of the day both tired and unsatisfied because you didn't achieve "anything worthwhile".
This happens with research for me. I decide to look into the type of casting sands used in 1950 foundries, simply so I can mention one in my writing, then end up reading all about the evolution of electric foundries. Before I start now, I try to remember to write down on my whiteboard what it is I am looking for. That way, once I've found it and erased the message to myself, I can more readily return my attention to the task of writing.
"What is the least I would like to do and what is the most I should do?"
We want to get something done and we know it's going to take a lot of effort. We start and we work hard, we get results, so we keep pushing on getting more done, until we are worn out. The next day we are so de-energised we can't even think about whatever it is we were supposed to be continuing with.
Pace means setting a lower limit (I will complete the rewrite of at least one chapter every day, no matter how I feel) but also an upper limit (I will stop if I have completed three chapters, even if I think I can go on).
"What can I do today which will make things easier tomorrow?"
As an engineer, I like this one. Spend energy when you are first doing a task, which you expect to repeat, making it easy to do the next time round.
I use technology to help wherever I can. Repeat appointments in the calendar (yearly, weekly, daily), snooze functions on emails (picking times for the messages to reappear based on what they contain), reminder to do lists with recurring tasks (I tick it off as done today, and next week it reappears to remind me again).
Simplifying things, cleaning up the landscape of my mind, is an ongoing project, but a worthwhile one.
If you get a chance, read Greg's book, or listen to his podcast. Both are excellent.