Overcoming work overwhelm

Do you have the problem of feeling overwhelmed? I think one cause of that feeling is when the stack of stuff we have to do is too big for our minds. The average stack of things we can keep track of in our heads is about seven. We can make lists. Those work really well. But what about when a project has a deadline, and you have to focus on it to the exclusion of almost everything else?

In a way having to focus on just one project is a relief. You know what you have to do every day when you get up: work on that project and go as fast as you can. Ignore everything that can be neglected.

Then the project is done and you feel a rush of relief. Almost immediately, though, all the little stuff rushes in. Part of what makes projects satisfying is you have that sense of completion, whereas with day-to-day stuff, you’ve worked hard, but you have no sense of completion.

It’s crazy-making.

Putting everything on To Do lists is good, but have you ever had that sense that you’re missing the big picture or something important?

I decided to put what I have to do on a big piece of butcher block paper.


Note: Mr. Sketch are scented pens, which are key!

One of the basic things I learned as a project manager was the difference between projects and operations. Projects have a beginning, middle, and end. Operations are ongoing activities you need to do for the business. I found remembering the difference between projects and operations to be a huge help.

In the midst of a project, you still need to keep those operations going. When you finish a project you need to see all the other ones that are waiting (and going cold). Or, if you have time to work on multiple projects at once, when you finish working on one during the day, you can glance at your list of projects and quickly get back on task with the highest priority one.

On my butcher block paper, all projects are in one color at the top of my paper. The operational stuff is in another color at the bottom. Every morning I walk into that room and look through it all then plan my day.

I think this technique will help me not forget projects or stop doing the day-to-day stuff that keeps things going. I will report back and let you know how it is working.

I am excited about this big-picture technique because I am tired of doing well for a while, then having to focus on a critical project or going on vacation and then losing track of all my good daily habits and forgetting smaller unfinished projects.

Do you feel overwhelmed? How do you keep track of all the things you have to do? Does the idea of separating out projects from operations make things easier to plan?

Now for some fun. I’m really good at making time for that! I am thinking of sending one of these monochrome photos in for Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness. These were the four I processed. I think with the Monochrome challenge, it’s okay to use a single color. Someone did it last week and it was amazing. I just tried it on a  photo from Paris. Anyway, which of these do you think I should submit, if any?

Diagram of projects and maintenance
New York
Grand Central Station, New York
The Empire State Building with three others