Using Priorities to Reduce Overwhelm

If everything is a priority, then you have no priorities.
year of no excuses dont want to earn my living priorities

1.  Chances are, you’re doing it to yourself.

Here’s something I learned the hard way: The human brain is NOT wired to multitask.  No, not even women’s brains, not even supermom brains.  That’s why you feel like you’re drowning, trying to keep up with everything.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s an article from PsychologyToday that reveals multitasking reduces overall productivity by as much as 40%.  Still not convinced?  How about this quote from a neuropsychologist and neurosurgeon who teamed up on a featured article for Time:

The neuroscience is clear: We are wired to be mono-taskers. One study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. And when the rest of us attempt to do two complex activities simultaneously, it is simply an illusion.

In other words, you need to set some priorities and focus on doing one thing at a time.

I know, I know.  Ladies, you can stop rolling your eyes at me now.

My lightbulb moment:

During an argument with my husband, he mocked me for describing myself as a “multitasking extraordinaire” on Facebook.  This really pissed me off.  He claimed an entire room as his office, and often shut the door while I worked full time, drove the kids around, and did most of the housework.  I had to wait for everyone to go to bed so, I could spread out on the kitchen island to work on my Masters.  Or blog, craft, clean, list items on my website, study for my PMP exam, read, whatever it was I was doing.

Then, he went for the gut: If I actually finished anything I started, then I wouldn’t HAVE to multitask.

Luckily for him, my gift is the ability to analyze information in spite of presentation.

With some help, I prioritized and decided to close my sea glass jewelry business.  Within the first year of focus, I completed my PMP certification, all the requirements for my Masters’ degree.  Last year, I set some different goals and finished my first ever half and full marathons.

2.  Remember, it’s okay to say no.

Once you know what you’re focusing on, say yes to actions that take you closer to achieving your goals and no to the things that take you farther away from them.

Does it cost you more time and angst than it’s worth?  Just say no.  Need some help?  Real Simple had an article with suggestions for actual words you can use to say no.  No, I don’t have time to bake 4 dozen cupcakes for the school festival this weekend.  Sorry, I can’t work 15 hours today because you invented a new and exciting idea at 3 in the afternoon.  No, I’m not watching your baby for free because I’m a stay at home mom.

Saying no is a tough habit to create, but I believe in you!

If you’re unsure, find a friend you can count on to tell you when you’re crossing the line between standing up for yourself and being a jerk.  By the way, this is not the same as shoving unsolicited advice down everyone’s throats in the name of “honesty.”

My lightbulb moment:

About a month ago, while on a family trip, my husband and I got custom fitted for running shoes.  I was in training for my first marathon and super excited to try them out.  The next morning, I woke up early to squeeze in a run before breakfast.

It was sunny and 55 degrees outside.  Wanting to be warm, I headed to the hotel gym.  Another lady beat me to the gym by about 5 seconds.  There were two treadmills, and we each got on one.  She complained about the smell and told me to turn on the AC.  Wanting to be polite, I checked the AC.  It was on.  I got back on the treadmill.  She complained again, telling me to turn it up all the way because she hates to be hot when she works out.

Tired of her barrage of complaints, I offered to switch treadmills.  That way the cold air would blow directly on her instead of me.  She agreed, and then discovered the treadmill she traded for wasn’t working.  So, she interrupted me a third time to complain, “Look, I hate to do this to you but I was here first and this doesn’t work for me.  I think you should get off of that treadmill.”

Wanting to show grace I didn’t feel, I stopped the treadmill and shifted my workout to a stationary bike.  (Suitable substitute for my marathon training plan, but not for testing out the new shoes.)  Gyms usually limit you to 20-30 minutes on cardio equipment when people are waiting.  Almost 40 minutes later, she was still WALKING on the treadmill and I left to eat breakfast with the family- feeling completely derailed.

In retrospect, I should have simply said no, then ran for 10 minutes on the treadmill to test out the shoes.

Instead, in my frustration, I doubled down by venting about mega rude lazy complaining gym lady on Facebook, causing drama with a bunch of Facebook “friends.”  But that’s another story.

3.  Own your decisions.

There are actually two parts to “owning” your decisions.  The first is to make a decision and not feel like everyone else is entitled to an explanation.  The second is recognizing that you are accountable for the consequences of your decision (good and bad).

More than one person has remarked that I’m good at just doing my own thing in spite of what other people think. It’s sort of true.  Many of my friends make choices I would not consider “right” for me.  That doesn’t mean I can’t support them as a friend.  Heck, if I had to agree with someone 100% of the time in order to qualify as a friend, I wouldn’t have any friends at all.  On the flip side, I do my best to respect the person even if I disagree with the choice and expect the same in return.

My lightbulb moment:

I’ll be honest.  The friends that love me enough to support me even when they disagree with my choices have never let on that it’s a chore for them to do so.  They listen unless asked for advice.  They say whatever they have to say, and then they shut up and have my back.  There are dozens of examples of decisions made by my friends that I wouldn’t choose for myself.  Because I care about them, it’s not a burden to disagree.  They don’t need to prove to me that they’re right and I’m wrong, or vice versa.  And I don’t want to say anything that would ever make them doubt that.

Sometimes standing up for yourself feels lonely.  If that’s you, here’s a terrific audio recording by Brooks Gibbs about social exclusion.  He says it better than I ever could.

It is impossible to please everyone all of the time.  If you are clear on your priorities, it makes it easier to sort through people who love and support you and the people who don’t.  And if someone doesn’t support you, then why bend over backwards trying to please them?

You’ll be less overwhelmed by focusing on the things you can affect: your decisions and your responses.

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