You know those days when there just aren’t enough hours to fit it all in?
You start raking and bagging the leaves in your 30-minute “break” before your next Zoom meeting, and then your kids come and tell you they need your help with homework.
Or you’re just sitting down on the couch after a long work day, and your dog decides to vomit all over both your nice couch… and your pants. Sigh.
For me, it feels like there’s been a lot of those types of days recently. Being the mother to two energetic teenagers, competing in triathlons, keeping up with the house duties, speaking at events, growing my business… the list of things to do is seemingly endless.
2021: the year of playfulness crazy hecticness?
And if that’s the norm for me, then 2021 has been even more hectic than usual. All the corona ups and downs have been exhausting. My mom’s death was challenging, to say the least. And as things are beginning to open up again, I’ve been starting to travel amidst all the restrictions. (Just this week, I’m in San Diego with the National Speakers Association. Come and say hi!)
Now Christmas is fast approaching and my mind is racing with all the extra things I have to take care of. Buying presents for the fam, organizing where we’re meeting and who’s bringing what food, decorating the house, baking cookies… and that’s just the next two weeks. Argh!!
I’m far from alone in this respect. I’m sure that many of you reading this today are struggling to keep up with it all in the same way I am. So the question I’d like you to ponder today is: how can we deal with all these todos in a thoughtful way?
Some inspiration comes from perhaps an unlikely source: President Eisenhower!
The Eisenhower Matrix
Few people are bombarded by so punishing a schedule as Presidents of the United States. So Eisenhower devised a decision-making process called the “Eisenhower Matrix,” which allowed him to prioritize how he spent his time. Let me share it with you.
Tasks are divided into four different categories:
- Urgent and important
- Important, but not urgent
- Urgent, but not important
- Neither urgent, nor important
Urgent and important
Tasks which are both urgent and important are extremely pressing. Your boss tells you she needs you to summarize actionables for a client by the end of the day. Or the low fuel light comes on in your car.
Eisenhower said that the best way to deal with tasks like these is to execute them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Important, but not urgent
Tasks which are important but not urgent often get put to one side, but we know deep down that we should make time for them. Examples could be going for a daily walk, asking your partner and children how their day was, or starting to count calories.
The best way to address these important tasks is to schedule time for them in your calendar, and then say no to anything else that gets in the way.
Urgent, but not important
Many of the tasks I was stressing about earlier in this article fall into this category. Getting Christmas organized on time, cleaning the couch after the dog vomited on it… things like this seem urgent right now but probably won’t when you’re on your deathbed looking back at your life as a whole.
Eisenhower’s approach to deal with urgent tasks was to delegate as many of them as possible. If it costs you a bit of money to get help with the cleaning, the amount of peace of mind you will gain is worth 10x that money, easily.
Neither urgent, nor important
Things like video games, infinite scrolling on social media, discussing politics for hours with acquaintances and spending coupons on underwear to save $5 fall into this category.
It’s best to eliminate these activities altogether, wherever possible.
Making time for Stillness
So where does Stillness fall into this system?
Well, it’s important, but not urgent. Stillness is the type of activity that often gets forgotten, but needs to be scheduled. This is why I have to book regular massages and floating sessions. I just won’t do them otherwise!
If you’re fretting that scheduling a 30-minute break and doing literally nothing seems impossible right now, try 5 minutes. If even that seems impossible, try 30 seconds.
When you realize that Stillness is something you have the power to choose, you’ll feel both empowered and scared. Suddenly the responsibility for being stressed out of your mind over all the things to do… it was yours all the time.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed this holiday season, take a deep breath and come back to your core:
- Pause. Observe your feeling of stress and where you notice it in your body.
- Think. Which of Eisenhower’s four categories do the things that are stressing you out fall into? Write out a physical matrix on a piece of paper if you need to!
- Act. Delegate as many of the urgent things as you can, and schedule some time for Stillness.