Three Tips For Staying Focused And Productive When You're Feeling Overwhelmed
It’s the beginning of a new year, and if you’re anything like me, that means that you’re dealing with a host of new opportunities, challenges, and initiatives.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re forced to juggle multiple projects, and these feelings often lead to a sort of productivity paralysis that feeds on itself.
Over the years, I’ve discovered a few secrets that have helped me jumpstart my productivity when feeling overwhelmed.
Tip #1: Draw a task map
Managing a deep to-do list in a given functional area is one thing; managing a number of tasks across unrelated initiatives is something altogether different.
At the moment, I’m handling a bunch of semi-unrelated projects all of which have their own detailed tasks that need to be completed. Whether it’s a matter of publishing my second book, launching a new software product, acquiring a business, or developing a new television project, there are more than a few things competing for my attention.
If you’re not organized, I can almost guarantee that something will fall through the cracks.
That’s why I developed what I call my task map a few years back. In a task map, you draw out your major initiatives and their related sub-tasks in a traditional hub and spoke design.
The relative size and positioning of each initiative hub corresponds to its priority. The associated tasks are represented by spokes that radiate out from each hub.
I’ve found that the task map’s value is two-fold. First, it provides a solid visualization of everything you have on your plate and the relative complexity of each initiative.
Second, it helps you cut back on some of the less important tasks you have on your to-do lists. By visualizing each sub-task, you can easily identify duplicated tasks, tasks that can be delegated effectively or areas for efficiencies. It also helps you to focus only on the essential items, lest your task map become overly burdensome.
Tip #2: Develop a prioritization matrix
The second tip I’ve developed is to honestly prioritize your goals and acknowledge the things that can cause you to become distracted.
As an entrepreneur, it’s all-too-easy to feel like everything on your plate is a top priority. Of course, if everything is a priority, nothing is.
Instead, I’ve developed a prioritization matrix that ranks tasks based on three factors: time, effort, and strategic importance.
There are certain things, such as preparing for a shoot date or conference, which have natural deadlines outside of your control. These time-constrained initiatives are easy to deal with since they’re somewhat out of your control.
Other areas of focus require differing levels of effort. Developing a new product concept, for example, requires a significant amount of thought and focus. Handling basic administrative tasks, on the other hand, do not.
Sometimes it makes sense to knock out these low-effort and low-priority tasks first to get them off your list and provide you with a sense of accomplishment.
Finally, I rank initiatives based on strategic importance. Certain initiatives may seem unimportant in the short-term, but their long-term strategic importance cannot be overestimated.
In these cases, it may make sense to elevate these tasks ahead of others, to capitalize on the strategic opportunity.
Tip #3: Create something tangible
One of the most frustrating things for an overwhelmed entrepreneur is the feeling that you’re just not moving forward. Many of the issues we are forced to deal with are conceptual, and thus the time and effort you put into them rarely result in a tangible work product.
I try to overcome this by forcing myself to create something tangible for everything I’m working on. Whether it’s a summary memo, a flowchart, or even a simple slide deck, having something to show for your efforts plays a big part in helping you feel as though you’re advancing.
Above all else, remember to keep moving forward
The most important thing I’ve learned about staying productive is never give in to feelings of hopelessness.
My father always told me, “Sometimes you just have to put your head down and keep pushing forward until you come out the other side”. No matter how much you have in front of you, just keep moving forward.
Forward movement, even in the form of baby steps, has a compounding effect. Complete one task, you’ll find that the next task is easier and you’ll be one step closer to completion.
As you keep moving forward, you’ll find that your pace will accelerate and soon a once overwhelming workload will seem like a piece of cake.