Is there anything in your world right now that’s making you feel anxious? Or as if you’re juggling too many things? If that’s your current reality, you are not alone.
One area in my life that can make me feel anxious is the constant pursuit of mastering multi-tasking. When I was a kid, I remember we used to tease my granddad about his multi-tasking skills because he always seemed to be watching the baseball game, reading a book, responding to us in conversation, and sleeping in his rocking chair...literally all at the same time.
Now as an adult with young kids at home and a start-up business, I’m fully appreciating that multi-tasking, at least how we tend to think of it, doesn’t actually exist. Rather than doing many tasks at once and achieving some beyond-human degree of efficiency, we just VERY QUICKLY rotate from one task to another to another and back again until they are all completed. How exhausting does that sound??
Now, in today’s world, where we are all looking for ways to get back to “normal” after a year in some degree of isolation, we are people who need to give ourselves a little grace. Before we talk about how to do that, let’s talk a little about where tasks come from and what motivates us to do them.
Sometimes the tasks we have do not feel our own; they’ve been assigned to us. Now, in some way, we’ve likely agreed to take them on, for example:
Your boss gives you a project to run
Your spouse asks if you can pick up the kids today
But even though we want to take on projects at work, and we want to be available for our kids, sometimes these tasks can still feel more like necessities instead of choices we fully embrace. Other tasks are ones we give ourselves, for example:
Framing/hanging a recent family photo
Cleaning up your workspace
Folding or ironing your clothes
With these types of tasks, we tend to be more invested, generally because we’ve decided that the time is right and we feel ready to take these on.
For either type of task -- “assigned” or “led by us” -- finding the right time to do the task is critical, and I have a tip for you that can reduce your stress and help you get more things done (without the need for conquering multi-tasking). I suggest using something called the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize your tasks. I didn’t make this up, so if you want to read more, do a quick google search, and you’ll find a ton. It is a way to examine what you are doing and easily see how to make the best impact possible. Here’s what it looks like:
So let’s talk about this matrix. Each quadrant will hold some of your tasks. Quadrant 1 will hold tasks that are urgent and important. These must be done immediately. For example, if your stove is on fire, you urgently need to put it out or get out of the house with your loved ones. A less dramatic example might be: you’re in your car on the way to an important appointment, and you notice you have no gas in your car. In this case, you do need to stop and get gas, or you wouldn’t make the appointment. Even if you’re late, you can’t get there without gas in the car. These items should be done first out of all items on your list.
Quadrant 2 will hold tasks that are not urgent, but they are still important. You will still find a way to make these things happen, even if it isn’t a “house on fire” situation. Examples might include scheduling and going to your annual medical appointments.
Quadrant 3 will hold tasks that are urgent and not important. These can be things like someone interrupting you in the middle of doing something else, and they are asking for something right then (possibly even just your time) so it’s “urgent” (in that it’s happening immediately). But it isn’t necessarily important. Another example could be something that needs to happen but it isn’t necessarily something YOU need to do. That’s why this quadrant can often be remembered as the tasks you can try to delegate.
Quadrant 4 will include tasks that are neither urgent nor important. Most of these tasks are great options to get rid of! If they aren’t urgent or important, what keeps them on your list? We don’t usually go into our tasks thinking, gee I’d really like to do something that is unimportant and can really be done anytime, if ever. :) These are items we can get sidetracked in, such as scrolling on social media, binging Netflix shows we really aren’t all that into, or reading all of your junk mail.
Where I believe we want to live, as much as we can, is in Quadrant 2. There will be things that pop up urgently that we can’t anticipate or avoid, but we don’t want to spend all of our lives operating in Quadrant 1, where everything feels super important AND super urgent. If we can plan ahead, we can spend more of our time in Quadrant 2, working on important things but without the anxiety that can come from constantly running around trying to get everything done. A small example: if we plan to do our laundry before we are absolutely out of all clean clothes, we can get it done before it becomes urgent, while also mentally rest more easily knowing that we’ve planned this into our days so we can still focus on other important (and not urgent!) things. When we operate this way, we can allow ourselves to have the mental and physical space to tackle urgent, important items when they inevitably come up. Just a quick note on managing items in Quadrants 3 and 4: we would serve ourselves best to attempt to delegate (quadrant 3) and delete (quadrant 4), wherever possible. It can be hard and potentially anxiety-producing to let go of tasks, either for someone else to do (“will they do it as well as I want?”) or to be lost forever (“at one point I thought this was important; what if I’m wrong to delete it now?”). Over time, however, there will be relief in knowing you are working on the most important items, putting yourself into items that most dramatically make a difference in your life.
We are all busy people, and I would say we need to be less busy. We need to be more understanding of ourselves and of those around us, knowing that we cannot carry this busy load alone or forever. So for every task you add to your list, ask yourself these questions:
Does this task need to happen? I.e., is it important?
When does it really need to happen? I.e., is it urgent?
Am I the only person who can do this task? I.e., can it be delegated?
I invite you to consider: what’s one thing you can let go of today? You can do it. By saying NO to one thing, you will enable yourself to say YES to another, probably more important thing. And I don't mean for you to say yes to something else today! I mean to say that you will free yourself from a lower priority task to better balance and equip yourself for the higher priority task that is yet to come.
As we work to manage our lives and find a good balance, I want to offer solutions to help through yoga practice and beyond. As I look to expand my offerings, will you fill out this brief survey and help me prioritize? I would appreciate it so much :)
Have you thought of your “one thing” yet? I don’t want you to forget ;) Please, please, please -- don’t step away from reading this post until you have thought of something. And then, would you notice what happens and how it feels when you let it go?