I got some great advice once when I was feeling stressed about everything I had, and wanted, to do. The advice went, “You’re stressed because you have all this stuff in your head and you don’t know where to put it. Take one piece of stress out at a time, put it on your calendar, and then don’t be stressed about it again until it’s time to deal with that one thing.”
Simple. Elegant. Kind of profound (to a college-aged kid at the time). “A few” years later and it’s still an important technique to get stuff done and keep the stress down. It’s also been evolved to two complementary tools: to-do lists and time blocks.
To-do lists are for writing down what has to be done so you can stop worrying about what you might forget.
Time blocks are for planning when you’re going to do items on your list so you can stop worrying about them now.
Our stress over whatever needs to get done just needs somewhere to go. Start with a list. Bucket the items into categories. Then, put time blocks into your schedule for dealing with each category. Want to write? Make a morning, or evening, or weekend time block. Chain it to when you drink your coffee. Make it easy. Then don’t stress about it until it’s time to do it.
I’m far from perfect at using these tools, but every time I feel the overwhelm start to come on I begrudgingly look at them and say, “You there, help please.” And they work.
Give them a shot. Get your stuff done without being stressed about all of it all of the time.
Want to go deeper? I’m currently experimenting with Cal Newport’s Time Block Planner to improve on my own productivity. I learned a ton about this stuff from his book “Deep Work,” as well as James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits.”
You can also see more posts based on Cal Newport’s work here and James Clear’s work here.