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When you’re overwhelmed with tasks, these two questions can help lighten the load

Is it just me, or is your plate overflowing with too many things to do?

I’ve talked with so many clients lately who are feeling overwhelmed with the sheer number of things they need to get done by the end of the year. And some days I feel overwhelmed too!

But let me offer two short & simple questions to ask yourself that may just help you find some lightness in your to-do list.

Question 1: What’s the easiest way to do this?

This is a question my beloved former coach Larry Peers helped me come up with years ago, at a moment when I felt like I was drowning in half-completed projects and emails that kept piling up.

In particular, there was one project that had me really flustered. I was leading a new task force whose mission was to revitalize a major program at the congregation I was serving. The stakes were pretty high and there were so many different options for how we could proceed. How should we organize the team? How much research should we be doing? How soon should we start holding stakeholder meetings, etc., etc., etc.

I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the possibilities. And I knew the task force was looking to me for leadership. So Larry and I came up with this counter-intuitive question: What’s the easiest way to do this?

I say counter-intuitive because, of course, I wanted the task force work to go really, really well—to be excellent, to have all the knowledge we needed to succeed. And yet, none of us had unlimited time to spend on the work of the task force. We wanted to do a good job, but we also needed to do it reasonably quickly. And we needed it not to feel overwhelming to the participants, most of whom were volunteers.

Asking “What’s the easiest way to do this?” was a game-changer for me and the task force. It helped me relax and trust in our creativity and good instincts as a team. When I asked that question at our next meeting, all sorts of ideas came forth for how we could make progress, quickly and in a good-enough way. In the end, we developed a creative new vision that the congregation supported, without burning ourselves out in the process. And we had a lot of fun along the way! 

Which is a good segue to the second question I recommend you ask yourself when you’re struggling with a task.

Question 2: How can I make this more fun?

I’m serious!

When you’re feeling bogged down, whatever it is you have to do, take a moment and ask yourself, what would make this more fun?

As for me, I like to give myself little pep talks. It helps me shift out of being super-serious and into a playful, positive mood. So whenever I finish a particularly tricky task, I like to tell myself, “Good job, me!”

Or this: Just yesterday I was feeling a little kvetchy because we’re running low on groceries and I really need to go to the store in the next day or two, though I don’t much like getting in the car and running errands.

Now, normally I am a very brisk and efficient shopper. I have a list and I stick to the list. But yesterday I asked myself, how could I make the weekly Trader Joe’s run more fun?

It came to me right away: while I’m there, browse the holiday cookie aisle and pick out one new treat to try! (I do love those Trader Joe’s seasonal munchies.) I’m actually kind of looking forward to it now.

Or here’s another idea that might help you out: I’ve talked with a couple of clients recently who have started to go sit at a coffee shop when they have a lot to get done. Not only is it less distracting than home or the office, they’re also enjoying the treat of a tasty hot drink and the chance to people-watch a little.

So how about you? What could you try to make those have-to tasks just a little more fun for you?

No matter how long your list, I hope you have a beautiful week, with plenty of moments of ease and fun!

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