Avoiding overwhelm by scheduling your day

Avoiding overwhelm by scheduling your day

Alex Johnson
Owner, Designer & Strategist

As small business owners, it’s really easy to let everything we need to do overwhelm us. I know there are times when I feel like I have so many things on my plate I don’t even know where to begin. And often when this happens, I end up doing nothing instead.

Those who run a business need a ton of self-motivation. You can’t be a successful slacker. But piling too much on your plate is just as bad as slacking off. You either do nothing or run around like a chicken with your head cut off.

But there is a better option. Scheduling your day in advance will help to keep you on track. Even with random fires popping up, you know what needs to be done in what order. Instead of treating every email or call as critical, everything has a place, and you feel more at ease. So, let’s talk about some things to help you make the most of your day, without being overwhelmed.

Declutter your workspace

Where you work reflects in your mind. Is it easier to find something with piles of mess on your desk, or when everything is neat and organized? I know for my space when it gets messy, that is instantly reflected in my mind. I start to struggle to function, or flat out skip doing things because there is too much going on around me.

The first thing you should add to your schedule is a few minutes to clean each day. This could be an activity at the end of your day as part of closing. Straighten up your workspace and put anything extra away. I know it seems simplistic. But when you arrive the next morning, you can jump right to it instead of figuring out what you need to clean first.

After I clean up my desk, I sometimes will even lay out the most critical item for the next day. This allows me to be prepared for the next day even faster.

Look at your workspace right now. Are there things you could put away? Even if it’s tasks you need to do, order those tasks and focus on one thing at a time.

Group small tasks together

Let’s pretend you own a delivery service. It’s a given you would want to maximize profits, and the best way to do that is to lower your gas costs. Would you deliver one package on the east side of town, then one on the west side before delivering another on the east? No way, that would be a huge waste of gas. You would group deliveries.

Your task list is the same way. When you separate similar tasks, you waste time in your day and make your list feel really big. It also takes a huge toll on your mental capacity when you are constantly switching gears. Our brains are just not built to multitask that well.

Anything can be a distraction
Anything can be a distraction

It’s been proven that the average person can’t multitask well. Some people can handle a few items at once. But most of us start to drop the ball on things. Add more than two tasks at a time and your productivity goes way down. So, group the small tasks and work on them in order. Do not try to do 5 small tasks at once.

Avoid distractions

Want to waste more time in your day? Start working in the same room as someone watching your favorite TV show. I can pretty much guarantee that you will end up spending time watching the TV instead of working.

Just as our brains can’t handle too many things at once, they also don’t handle distractions well. Especially when it must compete against something it enjoys more versus something boring. Something fun will always win out.

Find yourself somewhere that you enjoy working, but also minimizes distractions. Avoid busy or noisy places when you have work to do. Find yourself a place where you can focus on your work.

Remember, not every distraction is obvious. Music, TV, Kids, Facebook, Smartphones, the list goes on and on. Just about anything can be a distraction. Make sure you plan and set aside the right place to work. If you need to put your phone in a different room, do it. Close your do with an “I’m Working” sign. Do whatever it takes to keep your focus.

Choose the right time to work

Some of us are morning people. I am for sure not one of them. I work best from mid-morning to mid-afternoon and then after dinner to late evening. These are the times when I seem to get the most out of the work I am doing.

But even inside of those hours, there are better times than others. We homeschool our children. That means that I am more likely to get interruptions during the day, but once the kids are in bed, I am free to focus on any task I need.

This means that I work on tasks that require large amounts of concentration later in the evening. I am sure you are probably in the same boat. Different times will work better for different tasks.

The key here is to identify how you prefer to work and when you will have the best chance of accomplishing the tasks you need. Of course, there will always be tasks that have to be completed at certain times. For example, I can’t call other business owners at 8:30 at night. But I can plan those assigned tasks into my day and still get everything done.

Plan ahead

Start each day fresh from your list
Start each day fresh from your list

I like to plan my schedule on Sunday evening. I slot in all the big tasks first and then start working on all the little tasks. I leave some openings for the random fires that instantly need attention.

When you prepare your day in advance, you have a better idea of what your days will look like. This by no means can’t change. But it gives your brain peace of mind knowing what it needs to do and the priorities thereof.

Another key step to planning is a brain dump. For me, this is a daily occurrence. As I finish work, I take a few minutes and “dump” all the things I am thinking about into my task list for the next day. This helps me with work-life separation and allows my brain to take some time off from work. It also ensures that I won’t let something slip through when I forget about it overnight.

Just as important as planning what you will do is giving everything a timeline. When does the task need to be completed and how long will it take you to complete it? Set a specific deadline so you can order things and know what you need to do when.

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