Sometimes it feels like time is slipping between our fingers and we are powerless to do anything about it. Whether overburdened at work or pushed to the limits at home, carving space in the day to complete all the duties expected of us can be deeply stressful. There is no magic solution - however, there are straightforward measures you can take to plan your day with greater efficiency. On their own, these are small steps but, when it seems the whole world is pressing down, even small steps make a big difference.
Write It Down!
Setting your goals down in writing can help you focus and boost efficiency. A 'to-do' list will assist in separating important tasks from those that can wait. It will also be of use should you start to feel overwhelmed. If you have lots on your plate, it may seem as if you hardly have time to think. However, a quickly jotted to-do list can bring clarity and perspective. Don't be vague - scribble down what you need to do and how long you think it will take. If it transpires you don't have enough time to accomplish all your goals within the allocated period, think of ways around the problem. Otherwise, you may go over deadline and earn an unjustified reputation for tardiness.
Set Deadlines - And Stick To Them
Nothing focuses the mind like a looming deadline. Even if the cut-off is entirely arbitrary and set by you alone, committing to completing a task by a specific time will encourage you to knuckle down and concentrate on the job at hand. If you are, in fact, working to an actual deadline, imposed by an employer or client, for example, ensure from the outset you're in a position to achieve the goal within the time agreed. Not all deadlines are work-related - perhaps you have to collect kids from school or drive your spouse to and from the train. Either way, be aware from the get-go that these are the parameters within which your day is framed and plan accordingly. Do not make things up as you go.
Time Is Precious - Use It Wisely
Even five minutes frittered away has the potential to cost you later. So be firm and take care not to be blind-sided by frivolities. Ask yourself: do you really need a tea-break right now? Does the text message you have received demand an immediate response? Must you do the dishes straight away - or can your other half take care of it when they are in from work? When under the cosh, you have to be strong and not allow unimportant matters distract. Efficiently using your time means distinguishing essential tasks from less important ones.
A messy desk spells trouble for the already overextended employee. You don't know where anything is and, in addition to slowing you, the air of chaos will prevent you thinking straight. Do not let used coffee mugs pile up; keep your files in one place, your phone chargers, instruction manuals etc somewhere else. It's a cliche - nevertheless, a cluttered workplace often leads to a cluttered mind. Trudging through layers of figurative litter will sap your mental energy when you need it most.
Your friends and family mean well but sometimes you need to close the door and hang a prominent 'do not disturb' sign. If at home, calmly, firmly explain you are busy and need to be left get on with what you are doing. Electronic disruption can be as frustrating as the face-to-face variety, of course. So, if under pressure, consider turning your phone to silent or leaving it in another room. And think about installing software that temporarily disconnects your computer from the internet, so that you do not spend every second minute flitting over to Twitter, Facebook or Wikipedia. Easily distracted, our brains will frolic when the option is presented. A good choice is 'Freedom' - available for PCs, Macs and Android phones, which puts your computer into lock down so that you cannot browse the web for a specified period (macfreedom.com).
Stop Procrastinating Right Now
It's astonishing how we tie ourselves in knots thinking about all the things we have to do - but never quite get around to embarking on the tasks as they present themselves. You need to stop reflecting on all the demands on your time and just jump off the deep end and into the action. Once up and running, the challenges ahead will seem a good deal less overwhelming. The very worst you can do is work yourself into a state of apoplexy as your ruminate over the hopelessness of your situation. It may help to allocate a precise time limit to each task. If you've set aside 30 minutes to read through a report or vacuum upstairs, get on with it, knowing the countdown is underway. Whatever else, do not spend 10 minutes browsing Facebook, promising yourself you'll really knuckle down once you're done.
Give Yourself Something To Look Forward To
We are rewards-based life-forms. If we believe nothing but dreary toil awaits, it is hard to commit to a task with any urgency. The despondency will pull us under. So reward yourself if you achieve your goals. The treat may be as trivial as a brisk walk in the afternoon. Or perhaps you have decided that you will splash out on an iPhone 6 if you land a big contract. Obviously, there is more to life and career than dangling carrots and short-term payoffs. Nonetheless, if you feel the whole world pressing down, promising yourself a little 'me time' can light the way and make all the difference.
Learn To Say 'No'
In work, managers may have a tendency to pile tasks on until you hold your hands up and yell 'stop'. If genuinely at your limits, speak up. Better to let colleagues and superiors know now than take on too much and disappoint everybody in the long-run. The same applies at home: when you have a full plate do not embrace the part of the martyr. Calmly explain all your resources are deployed and that you need to left get on with it. You're already perfectly busy, thanks very much.
Know There Is A Limit To Multi-tasking
We are encouraged to multi-task nowadays. However, there are limits to how far you can spread yourself. If stretched too far, you may find you are doing lots badly rather than doing one or two things properly. It varies for everyone, but we all have our breaking point. If you are overwhelmed, then you almost certainly taking too much on. Step back and decide how best to allocate your time.
Stop Being A Perfectionist
As with multi-tasking, we are encouraged to see perfectionism as a good thing. However, consider that perfectionism and obsessiveness can be one and the same. At a certain point, you have completed a task to the best of your ability. That is the moment to step back and surrender control. Otherwise you risk becoming bogged down, focusing so much on the minutiae you cannot see the larger picture.
Health & Living
Our understanding of fats – including which ones are actually good for us – is evolving. We know for example that red meat and meat products, cakes and biscuits, which are rich sources of saturated fatty acids, are associated with an increased number of cardiovascular deaths.