The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
The secret of getting started is
breaking your complex overwhelming tasks
into small manageable tasks,
and starting on the first one.
– Mark Twain
Like you, I’m a compulsive over-achiever.
At one point, I made a list of my projects/priorities and came up with 15 items. These items ranged from “apply to graduate school” to “launch a new eBook” to “take x, y, and z online courses”.
Instead of learning how to juggle one ball, then two balls, then three… I took on 15 balls and tried to juggle them all at once. (How many times can you fit the word “ball” into one sentence?).
I don’t care how good of a juggler you are. Due to the laws of physics, there’s still a limit on how many balls you can juggle.
It was stupid of me to take on so much. Doing so caused me one hell of an anxiety attack. Ever since this great juggling failure, I’ve harbored an intense fear of taking on too many things. I never want to feel that crippling anxiety ever again.
For several months, I pushed success away because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I was afraid of having another anxiety attack.
However, if you want to reach levels of great success in life, you’re going to have to put yourself in situations where other people will make demands on your time. It’s inevitable.
If you’re great at what you do (which you want to be, right?) you’re going to have people begging you to help them… begging to pay you to do what you do. This sounds like great news, right? It is, until it comes time to deliver what the good people are paying you for.
It’s going to be hard to say “no”, or “I’d love to work with you, but I’m really quite booked for the next six months” when hundreds or even thousands of dollars are on the line. The gremlin in your head will tell you that this is the only client who will want you. If you say “no” then you’re being ungrateful.
You’re going to think about the lost potential income. Maybe I could squeeze that in, you’ll tell yourself as you click around at your Google Calendar. Maybe God will grant me 3 extra hours a day for the next four weeks?
You know it’s impossible, but you just can’t say “no”!
Maybe you’ve already taken on more than you can chew. You may develop a jaw disorder, but you’re going to gnaw on it anyway.
If that sounds like you, here are 10 tips and tricks for juggling success:
- Make a list with three columns. Label the columns “projects”, “time”, and “due date” respectively. Write down all of the projects you have going on right now, how many hours each one will take (you will want to break down big projects into separate tasks on the list), and the due date for that project.
- To calculate how long it will take you to finish a project, be generous. Make your best guess and then multiply the total by 1.2 in order to add a 20% cushion.
- Write down all of your time commitments on your calendar. This includes your job, part-time gigs, yoga class, monthly lunch dates with your college friends, family parties, and anything else that happens at a specific date + time and/or happens regularly.
- Start blocking out periods of time on your calendar to work on the projects you listed above: to work on your résumé, write your first novel, re-design your website, etc… As you fill in your calendar, you may start to realize that you don’t have enough time to do all of the projects by their due dates, which means…
- Delete 2 things from your calendar right now. Make space for the necessary by getting rid of the unnecessary. Have 8 million things to do on Friday but also want to go for a run? Something has to go. You can’t do it all and you have to stop trying to be superhuman.
- Only schedule one creative/ thinking-intensive activity per day. For example, if you write, only work on one writing task per day. You can try to convince yourself all you want that you can handle more than that. Be my guest. But I’m warning you that it’s not a good idea. Time constraints put stress on your creative capacity and you will begin to resent the work. Don’t let this happen! (I only schedule one main task per day and two little tasks).
- Please stop saying “yes” to other people’s requests. Instead, practice saying “I’ll have to check my calendar and get back to you.” This response will give you time to do just that. If you want to climb out of your hole of overwhelm, you have to stop digging deeper!
- Even if the coolest effing project in the world lands in your lap, you mustn’t say “yes” right away! Honor your previous commitments (or get rid of them). You must understand that time is a finite resource and you cannot keep cramming more projects into a finite amount of time without exploding. If the client really wants to work with you, they’ll wait until you have an availability. Command respect from others by having respect for yourself.
- Everything takes longer than you think it will. People won’t respond to your emails on time. You’ll run into a technical error. Be realistic. That’s why I add a 20% cushion of time.
- Leave gaps in between tasks. I make an effort to never schedule to appointments or to-dos back-to-back. Space is good for the soul.
That’s what I have to say, but now it’s your turn.
How do you manage multiple projects?