Much has been written about how busy everyone feels these days. Is this frantic feeling down to underlying economic realities, unrealistic expectations, always on tech, the latest fashion in humblebragging, or some combination of these factors?
Whatever explanation you settle on the fact remains that if you ask nearly any adult how they're doing, you'll hear back some version of, "slammed." We're all feeling overwhelmed and it isn't pleasant.
So while economists and other experts sort out the underlying causes or the franticness of modern life, is there anything we can do to slow it down and regain a sense of control over our time?
This is clearly a huge, complicated question, but recently blogger and entrepreneur Shawn Blanc offered a blessedly simple answer. To get started, just grab pen and paper and try this exercise.
Step one: fill in the boxes
The heart of the exercise is a basic 2X2 matrix. To start battling your feelings of being overwhelmed, draw one up and label it like so:
Now fill in the matrix with all your responsibilities, both personal and professional. In box one go all the tasks that only you can accomplish and which bring joy to your life. They might include being a great parent or leading your company or team. Box four is for things only you can do for yourself -- like hitting the gym -- but which might not be quite so joyful. Box two is stuff you're good at and enjoy but which plenty of other people could do, and box three is life's drudge work, like less-than-joyous admin and cleaning tasks that basically anyone could do.
So far, so simple. The real magic happens when you move on to the next step.
Step two: reflect and act
Now that you have all the stuff that's clogging your brain down on paper you can start wrangling it into some kind of less overwhelming order. The first thing you'll notice, Blanc notes, it that box two things are often real time sucks.
"Items in boxes 1 and 4 are things which you must choose to take personal ownership of and prioritize into your life," he reflects. "What things are in Box 2? It's awesome that these are things which you love, but make sure they're not keeping you from the things in Box 1."
"The truth is, my job within my company as a writer, designer, and project manager is totally replaceable. Even though those activities are critical to what we do, I could train someone else to do that work," he continues. "What's NOT replaceable within the company is my leadership as the owner. My taste, values, and vision for the work we do are unique. Therefore, if the work I'm doing in Box 2 begins to interfere with my responsibilities in Box 1, then guess what? Time to make a change."
Shifting your attention to your unique skills often means loosening the reins of control and letting others take over more responsibilities in the areas you've stuck in box two. This can be hard as checking off tasks we're good at but which aren't our core strengths makes us feel useful and valuable. They're easy and pleasurable, but they don't leverage our most imporatny strengths or move us towards our most treasured goals. Let them go.
What else should go? Box three items. "These need to go!" Blanc insists. "Get assistance, learn how to automate the process of that work, ask your boss if you can be relieved of those duties, etc."
The magic of this simple exercise
Is this exercise complicated? No, it's invitingly straightforward, but it contains a little seed of magic nonetheless. Shining a bright light on the two things that should really matter when it comes to prioritizing your time -- your happiness and your competitive advantage -- makes those that matter less, like satisfying but unessential professional tasks and dreary life maintenance, stand out in contrast.
And once you know what you should be focusing on, rebalancing your life to avoid feeling overwhelmed becomes a whole lot easier.
Check out Blanc's complete post for more details, give the simple exercise a try, and let me know how it works out for you in the comments.