Children have an uncanny ability to detect stress levels. You may think you're hiding it well, but your children can feel when you're relaxed and they can feel when you're stressed out.
So what do we do? The way I see it, we have two options. We either get a lot better at hiding our stress or we stop getting stressed so frequently.
We'll just focus on one common reason for stress: disorganization. Don't worry, I'm not talking about cleaning out your hall closet. We're talking about task organization, mental organization.
Here's how it normally goes. You're on your way home from work to pick up your daughter and you remember that you forgot to pick up an ingredient for tonight's dinner.
After getting home late (because you had to run by the store), you run around trying to get dinner done in time to make it to a 7:30 meeting with a local non-profit.
During that meeting, you suddenly remember an email you forgot to send to a client at work. Now you're trying to listen while shooting off a quick professional email from your phone.
You get back home to put your daughter down and she asks, "Is everything okay?" You put on that "everything-is-fine" face and say, "Of course, sweetheart."
A Way Forward
While every productivity solution does not fit everyone, some basic principles do provide universal help. So what should you do when you find you're overwhelmed? Set aside one hour on a Saturday morning (or whatever day is best for you) and work through these six steps.1
1. Brain dump
Just take a piece of paper out and write down everything you need to do. Think about every area of life: church, home, work, etc. No task is too small.
At some point in this process, you'll probably come to a standstill. Give it a minute or two before you consider your list done. If you're like me five or ten things will still come to mind if you give them time.
Now, this step alone isn't helpful. If you stop here, you've just made your problem worse. Now you truly realize everything you need to do. Just keep working through the steps.
2. Strike Out
Look through your list. Is there anything that you just shouldn't be spending your time on? You'll likely find that you've overcommitted yourself somewhere.
Without breaking your word or pulling back from obligations, strike out some items from your list. Being productive and organized starts with learning to say "no."
Take another look through your list. Is there anything on your list that isn't your responsibility but still needs to be done? Who should be doing that task? Pass it off to them.
I should warn you, if you're ultimately the one responsible for a task, delegating it doesn't mean you're done. You'll need to follow up, but at least the right person is doing the work.
4. 2-Minute Rule
Are there any items that you can do in two minutes or less? If so, get them done and mark them off. List looking smaller? Good!
5. Date-Stamp and Prioritize
Take your remaining items and mark each with two data points. First, date-stamp each one. On what day do you want to start working on the task? Write that down next to your list item. If the items needs to be completed by a certain date, mark that date as well.
Second, label each as an (A), (B), or (C) priority. The most important items receive an (A), the second a (B), and the least important a (C). Here's another way to think about it. (A) items must be done for you to head to bed at night. Bs should be done, but won't prevent you from sleeping. You would love to get Cs done, but you can put them off a day without any consequence.
You should have a smaller list than you began with originally. Each of those items should have a letter of priority next to them, a date you want to start working on the item, and (if applicable) a due date when the item must be done.
Now divide the items out according to the date you want to start working on the items. Put all your Monday items together, all your Tuesday items together, etc. If the item has a due date, mark that as well.2 Your list might look like this.
- Prep for non-profit meeting Tuesday night (A) (DUE Tuesday)
- Email fellow parents about teacher year-end gift (B)
- Buy bread, eggs, and milk (B)
- Buy items for Saturday's birthday party (C) (DUE SATURDAY)
Notice that I try to keep due dates off of items if at all possible. That just induces anxiety most of the time for me and they usually don't have to be done by that date.
You'll also notice that since I'm already going to the store Monday, I'm getting things for Saturday's party several days early. For that reason, it gets a (C) even though it has a due date. If I don't get it done that day, no worries. I still have several days. It will probably become an (A) by Friday if I haven't yet completed the task.
That's the benefit of thinking through everything you need to do. You start to realize that you can accomplish things for work, church, and home all at the same place (like buying things at a store), so instead of making multiple trips, you make one.
I'm Stressed Out
Now if you've read this far and are just thinking, "I'm stressed out trying to get organized," just give it a try. The fact is, you already do some version of the list above—it just isn't planned.
If you don't sit down and think through these steps, you will still do this! That's important to keep in mind. It's just that this type of organization will happen on the fly in your head.
I'm just encouraging you to do what you already do more thoughtfully. Rather than deciding which task is more important or which task must get done today while you're driving around town, you have the benefit of a few moments of careful reflection.
If you repeat this process each week, you'll see a dramatic increase to your productivity. You'll see a dramatic lessening of your stress level. Best of all, your kids will benefit from having a mom or dad who is not just around, but who is present and able to give them their full attention.
The following steps are loosely based on David Allen's Getting Things Done. ↩︎
- As a general rule, I only fill up 60% of my time with A, B, and C items. Life is unpredictable and it's just not realistic to fill every second of every day.