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Find some calm, get organized

Coach's Corner--July 6, 2009

The Client
Name: Frank
Age: 53
Title: Entrepreneur
Industry: Software development
Issue: Keeping on top of multiple tasks
Q. Things are very hectic for me at work, with lots of different responsibilities and projects. I actually think I have enough time to get everything done, but I just lose track of things and feel overwhelmed by them.

A. When the to-do list gets long, take a breather, get focused and use some organizational tools to get things under control.

The inner game
Start by calming down and easing the adrenaline rush. Try whatever works for you — a quiet timeout, a walk, or lunch with a friend. The time away from work will be more than made up for by the focus you gain.

Once you’ve settled down, pay attention to the state of mind that you’d like to create. Rather than harried, calm. Rather than frantic, serene. You get the idea. Do some quiet breathing and anchor the positive emotion so you’ll be able to recover it when things feel out of control. Link the feeling with a visual image of a place you love to go. Bringing that image to mind will help you relax later.

Think about the big picture. The type of role that you’re in may not fit as well as something that is more structured and less volatile, so think about whether the current path is working for you.

The outer game
Focus on the work that’s facing you. When details are escaping you, it helps a lot to do an inventory. Start project by project, using sticky notes, to-do lists, or even making stacks of project documents. Then put all of them on a calendar with milestones and deadlines to plan your time. Also, note where you’re depending on other people, either items they need from you or you need from them, so no one gets off track.

Once you’ve gotten organized, you’ll need to maintain order. Don’t follow someone else’s “shoulds.” Instead, develop a system that works for you. You might prefer to plan your tasks first thing in the morning, or do so before going home at the end of the day. Perhaps you have a weekly master schedule that you update, or use your timeline. Update it as projects evolve and also as you meet your milestones. One tip: A whiteboard can be a dynamic and visual way to keep track.

Observe your progress as you go, checking in with yourself regularly — as often as a couple of times a day at first. Notice whether you’re staying on task, whether items are slipping, and especially how you’re feeling. If you see patterns, such as spinning your wheels instead of taking action, procrastinating, or letting distractions get in your way, examine and address the root causes.

You don’t have to do it all on your own. Get help from people around you to reinforce positive habits and remind you when you’re slipping. Seek out resources for organization and time management tips, and learn from others’ experiences.

The last word
Getting control of what you do (your tasks) and how you do it (your focus) will help you keep on top of your work.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted July 6, 2009
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