One of my clients recently called the ambulance with chest pain.

Fortunately it was a false alarm, not the heart attack he was suspecting.

Regardless, it was a wake-up call for him. He’d been doing too much lately, working late, feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

We spent the coaching session getting grounded after such a shaky wake-up call and, most importantly, figuring out how to avoid it happening again.

Looking at his project board, he asked anxiously: “But how am I going to squeeze it all in?” In that moment it hit me.

It’s not about squeezing it all IN … but deciding what to squeeze OUT

You don’t need to have a heart attack to realise you’ve got too much stuff on your plate. If your workload is impacting your health (even in small ways), then something needs to shift.

Here are the steps I walked my client through to take some stuff off his plate.

1. Choose three top priorities 

Using sticky notes, write down all the things you could be doing (one ‘thing’ per sticky note). Then move them and group them into categories “Someday” “Later” “Soon” “Now”. Aim to have only 3 things in the “Now” category.

If you have done a 90 Day Action Plan, then use your vision page to get clear on your priorities. What are your deepest aims for this chapter of your life?

2. Renegotiate deadlines 

Often our self-imposed deadlines are unrealistic. It’s the #1 thing that cause my clients stress — setting deadlines for themselves, convincing themselves that those deadlines must be adhered to, and then feeling stressed carrying them out (or feeling like a failure if they don’t).

We all underestimate how long things will take. As the date approaches we start to sweat. I often ask my clients “Why don’t you give yourself a time extension?” And they’ll reply “But I set a goal for myself for it to be done by now, and I need to do it”. And when I press them for more info, they say “Because I promised myself … and I told some other people it’ll be ready. I don’t want to look bad”. Can you cut yourself some slack?

Sometimes, though, we have externally-imposed deadlines, where other people are counting on us. In these cases, it’s best to reach out to the other people involved and be honest … and the sooner, the better. You could say for example: “I know that I promised I’d have this done in time, but it’s become obvious it’s not realistic. I’m feeling overwhelmed (and my health is starting to suffer). Is there any flexibility with the deadline?”

Another of my clients recently did this and was surprised to discover the answer was “No problem. We set that deadline because we needed to give you a timeframe. So we chose a random date. We won’t actually need that for another month or so”. He was getting stressed about it when really it was no issue on their end.

Sure, I know. This is not always the case, and sometimes there isn’t the flexibility. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

3. Just say hello 

Rather than stress out about a big project, how can you make it smaller? Instead of worrying about doing all the homework for your course, what’s the first step? Maybe just print out the pages. Or skim read chapter 1.

These three steps above are all ‘squeeze out’ options — in other words, being flexible in terms of projects, timeframes and tasks.

But sometimes you still need to ‘squeeze stuff in’. And the only real option here — apart from working crazy number of hours and impacting on your health — is to squeeze in the task by dropping your standards:

4.  Lower your standards

80% out the door is better than 100% in the drawer.

Get it done, without it being perfect. Rather than spend a 1 hour editing like you usually would, how can you do a quick 15 minute skim edit instead? Is the world going to end if you publish a blogpost with a couple of spelling mistakes?


Over to you …

Do you often think “How am I going to fit everything in?” Have you ever had success trying to squeeze something out, using one of the 4 steps above or something different?

Share in the comments below.

Photo in header by gwire (creative commons)