This month I have been working with a coaching client. He’s a teacher getting ready for the new school year. If you’ve never taught before, getting ready for the school year is a really big project. It can be overwhelming if you don’t break down the pieces.
Until last year, I couldn’t even imagine all of the behind the scenes work a teacher has to do to make their classroom run. Unit planning, lesson planning, routines and procedures, classroom management, physical environment.
My client had been working on a course that was suppose to help him to prepare everything for the first days of school. The problem is the book itself had so many resources, so many activities, that he was getting lost about where to start.
He brought me in to cut through the noise and help him focus his time on the things that would have the biggest impact. The one thing I learned by teaching last year, is that there is always more you could be doing with your time. You have to decide what it is that’s really going to make the most impact.
Don’t worry about perfect. Perfection is not possible anyway. The way to move forward is to worry about good enough.
My client was struggling with information overload. It’s not that he couldn’t do the job. But the task was so big, and there was so much to consider, he couldn’t make a decision about where to start.
It happens to all of us. You need to make a choice. You’ve done your research. You’ve looked at a bunch of options. You’ve made your pro/con list. But you’re just stuck. You’ve weighed the options and still…nothing.
Classic information overload.
Here’s the thing. We’re living in a world where we are constantly taking in input. We have social media begging for our attention. Notifications popping up constantly– interrupting us during our working and playing hours alike.
Everywhere you turn there is something you need to do, change, quit, start.
- 15 things you should do first thing EVERY morning!
- 21 foods you thought were healthy…but aren’t!
- 25 ways you aren’t measuring up!
- 75 more things you should have started yesterday!
- 15 reasons you shouldn’t do anything suggested in a list that starts with a number!
You get the idea. There is so much information out there, and so much of it contradicts. How can you even begin to decide what’s right?
While there may not be an easy answer here are a few things you can do to prevent information overload.
Eliminate Choice Wherever Possible
What do the CEO of Facebook and the former president of the United States have in common? Both have streamlined down their wardrobe so that they never have to decide what to wear. Mark Zuckerberg’s closet looks like a cartoon characters— multiples of the same grey t-shirt and hoodie that he wears everyday. Obama told Vanity Fair that he only wears gray or blue suits.
Both men recognize that you can only make so many decisions in a day without getting worn out, so they eliminate choices for things that aren’t essential to their mission.
Clothing seems to be an easy choice to pare down or eliminate. Minimalists and capsule wardrobe enthusiasts all agree that there is something that frees up your mind and creativity by pairing down your closet and reducing daily wardrobe decisions.
However, clothing is only one of many things you can cut back on.
I would say that one of my most common, and most annoying decisions everyday, multiple times a day, is what to eat. I’m not one of those girls who just “forgets to eat.” Sometimes, I’m thinking about what my next meal should be while I’m still chowing down on the current one. But, I HATE actually picking what to eat. It drives Sweets (my fiancé) crazy. I can’t decide what I want, turn down every suggestion, and after I’ve spent way to long thinking about it, I’m hangry. The struggle is so real.
One thing that I think has really improved this is meal planning. Since I started following the Tone It Up nutrition plan, I don’t have to think too much about what to eat, if I don’t want to. They include a weekly meal plan- complete with grocery list and recipes. The meals are delicious and I’m eating regularly so I don’t get hangry.
Plus, meal planning helps ensure I have food ready to go on hand so I don’t have to have those last minute runs to the store (or to the drive through) to grab something.
Another way to cut down on the number of decisions you have to make is by forming habits for the stuff you need to do. Last week I talked about how I use complementary habits to get my housecleaning done. Habits can be a powerful way to get through things you need to get down without having to rely on willpower. You probably don’t have to decide to brush your teeth. You just do it.
One thing I’m trying to work on is making exercise part of my routine. I’m looking forward to the morning I look down and see my tennis shoes are already laced up and ready to work. Hasn’t happened YET but I’m optimistic.
Most Important Thing First
I live by my to-do list. I get really stressed trying to keep track of all the things I need to do. I instantly feel lighter when I put it down on the page. It’s like a little sign to my brain that I’m in control and that I’ll get to it.
On the other hand, sometimes I can let my to-do list become an avoidance tool that keeps me from getting to the things that really matter. I’ll tell myself that I’m being productive if I’m crossing things off the list but in reality a lot of things I put on the list were not that important to begin with.
I’d say my number one productivity tip is to start with the most important thing on the list first. It’s usually the task you’re scared of. It’s too big. It requires you to do research. Or to have to work with someone else (fellow introverts **shutter**).
Each day pick the 1-2 things that are the most important and get them over with. It should be the thing that will make or break your day. If you finished just that task and nothing else you’d still feel accomplished. Or on the flip side, if you finished everything else on your list but not that, you’d feel like your day was wasted.
Remember the Nike Slogan
While my other tips are ways to avoid information overload, I want to leave you with some wisdom for when you are in the midst of it.
When you find yourself stuck, unable to make a decision or to get started, remember the Nike slogan. “Just Do It.”
In the grand scheme of things, action is going to get you farther than inaction. If you’re stuck with that feeling of analysis paralysis, you’ve weighed the options and you can’t pick one way or another–just pick something. 9 times out of 10 neither choice is going to be substantially better.
Making a decision, any decision can help you get your momentum. Maybe it’s not a perfect choice, but that’s okay. Usually you’ll find that once you get the ball rolling you find clarity again.
How do you handle information overload? Leave me a comment with other tricks for getting things done when you feel stuck.