Moving From Overwhelm To Action

     We’ve talked a lot lately about becoming clearer on your goals and creating action plans. The number one problem for many of my clients is moving from the goal to the action. It’s not that they don’t have good intentions or lack the motivation; it’s the big O word that gets in their way. OVERWHELM. Many of us want to move on and achieve, but get stuck in the overwhelm. There is so much to do, decide, and a tremendous amount of choices, so it’s not uncommon to know what step to take next.

     What it all comes down to is prioritizing. Defining what really is urgent and following that action through will give you the relief, (and time) needed to accomplish your other goals. Pay close attention to your mental state when deciding when you think it’s urgent to do an important task, it just won’t feel right. For my readers that need proof beyond the “feeling” thing, I’ve included some specific examples.

     Martha Beck wrote an article called “Urgent! Urgent! (Or is it?)”. In the article, she discussed one of Randy Pausch’s time management speeches. She included the quadrant below, which Pausch used to illustrate Stephen Covey, Sr.’s, a renowned time management guru, concept of urgency. He used the below matrix to illustrate how to define the urgency of daily activities.


Quadrant 1


Important, Urgent

Quadrant 2


Important, Not Urgent

Quadrant 3


Urgent, Not Important

Quadrant 3


Not Important, Not Urgent


    Now quadrant 1 is the easy one, it includes eating and providing shelter for our family and ourselves. It’s the other quadrants that we get stuck in.  Stephen Covey, Sr. suggested spending less time on mindless tasks, even the urgent ones, and more time on the important tasks of life. He created the exercise below:

  1. Get 20 or 30 note cards. On each card, write down one thing you should do, want to do, plan to do, or dream of doing. Include everything, no matter how large or small. Keep this up until your brain runs dry.
  2. When you’ve written down all of your goals, plans, and ideas, separate the cards into two piles: things that have to be done right this minute (or feel like it) and those that don’t.
  3. Now go through both of these piles, separating each into “important” and “not important” stacks. The four resulting stacks correlate with the Covey quadrants.
  4. Carefully place both your “not important” card stacks in a safe spot. This, if my experience is any indication, will insure that you’ll never find them again. If you do happen to stumble across them at any time in the future, burn them.
  5. Commit to eliminating from your schedule all the activities that didn’t make it into the “important” stacks. If you have time after doing your important and urgent things, use it on important but not urgent activities. No matter how pressing something may seem to be, if it’s not important, just don’t do it.

     Yes it does take some work to break your daily habits and thought patterns, but it’s well worth it. It may be difficult at first to break the pattern of constant “it has to get done”, but over time you will find yourself choosing the best thing for yourself and your ultimate goals.

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