The feeling of being overwhelmed is often the cause of procrastination. It definitely is for me. Feeling as if I simply cannot get the job done is the main cause, maybe the only cause, of my procrastination, because I get lots done. But I’m often berating myself for leaving some things, always the same things, undone.
One example is email. And I’m getting a handle on it now by slicing and dicing it into manageable chunks. You can use this system for most things, so let’s go step by step with what I’ve been up to.
First, you have to know how to use your tools. In this case, your email program. I know mine pretty well by now—I’ve been using Eudora since the last century. One of the most important things I know is how to make mailboxes. Other programs might call them folders. This is where you can put emails by group, just as you file papers. Next, you need to know how to filter messages. I do that for some friends, family, lists/groups and certain businesses. In Eudora, the mailbox name gets bolded when there’s anything unread in there, so I always know where I have new mail.
Now my inbox looks a lot less full (overwhelming), thus a lot more manageable. So, when I check mail, I first go through my inbox and delete every piece of spam I get. If any stray messages are in there, I slide them over into the correct mailbox. Now I have the email I really should attend to right away in front of me. The others can be read and answered, if needed, in their own time.
I also don’t answer every email right away. If I do, many people will then answer me right back, and I could spend all day with seven or eight emails, reading, then answering. If not urgent, wait at least a few days, a week or ten days may be better to answer friends’ emails. Back in the old days, people didn’t get those instant responses, and we’re probably even more busy now. Check the date every morning, and anything older than the week or ten days you’ve set for yourself is the one that needs to be answered right away.
How can we apply this process to other to-dos that overwhelm us? Cut them down to size, into pieces. I do this with housework. I do a couple of things every day. One day it might be laundry and ironing. Another day it’s cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. One day I vacuum and dry mop, etc. Getting too much regular mail, as well as email? Spend fifteen minutes a day with it after dinner, handling it as quickly as you can. Throw away the junk, unread. File things right away that need filing and pay bills. Make a pile for reading, take it with you to your chair to read during commercials or in other stray moments. Planning for a party or big event? Do one chore a day, making a plan in advance so you know how many days you’ll need, adding a couple for a cushion.
This system defeats boredom and makes you feel in control. It changes what you say to yourself about what you need to do. Instead of, “I need to clean the whole house today,” you say, “I only need to dust and vacuum today.” Instead of saying, “I need to straighten out my closet today,” say, “I’ll work for half an hour on straightening out my closet, then quit for the day, and do the same tomorrow.” And so on. Try it, and let me know how it works for you.