Feeling overwhelmed by everything you need to accomplish? Use the four Ds.
When our schedules get overbooked it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. As if we’re living at the mercy of our calendars and treading water with our goals. We’re focused on dealing with what’s urgent and right in front of us because we don’t have the space to plan ahead.
The more jam-packed our days become the less we’re able to think of creative solutions and the easier it is to fall into all or nothing thinking that keeps us stuck.
The longer we stay in this chronically over-busy state the more likely we’ll end up burnt out and unable to help anyone.
The 4Ds can help you create that space to breathe, help you focus on your top priorities, and take life and work at a more sustainable pace. Let’s walk through each one.
Delete / drop
This is exactly what it sounds like. What can you take off your plate? What can you simply delete from your to-do list so you’ll have more time and energy for other things?
If deleting something feels challenging, start by getting clear on your priorities. Rank your to-do list in order of most important to least important (instead of by urgency) and then see if there’s anything on the bottom of your list that you can delete.
Don’t forget to include your needs on your list. So often we put everyone else first. Then, when life and work get hectic, we delete the self-care practices that we need more than ever to sustain us through the busyness. We skip the morning meditation in favor of starting the workday a little earlier. Or we work late through our regular evening run.
When you’re deciding what to delete, ask yourself…
- Will this help me achieve the long-term result I want?
- How would it feel to delete this task? Am I relieved? Excited? Or worried about disappointing others?
- Consider how this might impact others and share your decision.
If the idea of taking something off your plate altogether feels a little...scary - keep reading.
Deferring is about acknowledging that even though something might FEEL urgent - it can wait. It’s giving yourself space to consider, decide or do it later. And it’s useful to keep in mind when new opportunities come up. It can be “yes” next week, next month, or next quarter. Deferring can also give you space to reflect on your answer before you jump in. For example, “This opportunity sounds amazing! I’ll get back to you by end of day Wednesday with my answer.” Because if we give ourselves space to slow down and respond thoughtfully we’re more likely to avoid taking on too much.
- Do I need to decide or do this right now?
- What might happen if I delay this?
- Am I deferring this to procrastinate or avoid?
In other words, enlist help. While delegating might come naturally at the office we can forget this applies to other areas of our lives.
My coworker and I were having a conversation about how short the workday is after dropping off and picking up kids. I wondered aloud what it would be like to put her child in daycare or after-school care? She replied that she didn’t want to do that every day. I wondered again if she could do it three days a week or even once a week? By enlisting help even once or twice a week she could stay on top of her responsibilities at work with a few extra hours and feel less overwhelmed by everything she needed to accomplish. Which would allow her to be a more present mama when she was with her kids.
Sometimes we avoid delegating because we convince ourselves that we’re the ONLY ones who can do a certain job. Or the alternative doesn’t match our values and we forget to look for the middle ground. Often, it means that we have to accept that it won’t be exactly the way it was before or it won’t be done in exactly the same way that we would do it.
- What does delegating free me up to do?
- How important is it that I do this myself?
- Can someone else deliver this at a level I can be okay with?
- Who is ideal for this job and could even benefit from the learning experience?
- How much time would this take to delegate or teach and what would the long-term benefits be?
This is a “less is more” approach. It works best for recurring tasks and asks if you can reduce the frequency or scope. It’s about achieving your goals in the most efficient way. Instead of 25 emails back and forth, it might be much quicker to make a phone call. Or, instead of yet another meeting perhaps you could open a slack channel.
Sometimes our values insist that we show up in a certain way and we end up stuck in patterns that are time-consuming instead of asking if there’s another way for us to meet that value. Or we overcomplicate things forgetting that often the most effective solution is also the simplest.
One of the women in my group had a strong value around showing her kids they were important to her. She did this by cooking dinner a few nights a week. Which made her already 12 hour days extremely long and stressful. We brainstormed the idea of bringing in a cook or ready-to-make meal a few nights per week. By diminishing the amount of time on the recurring task of making dinner she gets to enjoy her time with her kids and still enjoy a terrific meal.
Questions to ask yourself...
- Am I making this too perfect (and exhausting myself in the process)?
- What do I lose by doing less of this?
- What do I gain by doing less of this?
After deleting, deferring, delegating, and diminishing as much as you can from the list of things you need to accomplish you can create time and space for your brain and body to relax. By giving yourself a little more breathing room in your calendar you can show up more creatively, focused, and energized to the tasks that matter most.