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Run Your Day, Don’t Let It Run You

Topics: Career Advice
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Are you feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. It’s super easy to start feeling like your day is a little out of control—or, maybe more than a little—when you’ve got so much to do.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like you’re running around putting out fire after fire? Your to-do list essentially falls by the wayside as you leap to attend to urgent matters that arise seemingly on top of one another. Having a day like this can be tough. But when you have these kinds of experiences often, or even semi-often, it can be downright exhausting and more than a little discouraging. Here are some tips for regaining control:

1. Set priorities

Time management is an ongoing process, and it’s also quite the balancing act. So it’s super important to set clear and sensible priorities along the way. Start by taking a few minutes to look over your to-do list before starting in on your day. You may want to set this up the in the evening before you go home, or you can do it first thing in the morning. Think about the three or four things that are the most essential tasks of the day and commit to getting them done. Start in on them first, if you can. Be sure to take stock of where you stand with these priorities at the end of the day. Even if your to-do list has grown—which it probably will—you should still feel very accomplished if you made progress on your most essential priorities.

2. Stop thinking that it’s a good thing to be busy  

Our modern culture of overwork has this terrible habit of glorifying being busy, working long hours, and even being stressed. Be sure to step back and take a look at that idea and decide whether or not you believe in it for yourself. Stress has been proven to have some pretty terrible consequences. Plus, research confirms that workers are actually more productive when they do less. So don’t believe the hype. Consider integrating another idea instead – that working your way through the day in a peaceful and calm fashion is best. This allows you to run your day rather than letting it run you.

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3. Don’t skip the zzz’s  

You should make taking good care of yourself a top priority, no matter how busy you are. Otherwise, you’ll pay the cost. For example, not getting enough sleep will negatively impact your cognitive functioning. It becomes harder to focus, be creative, pay attention, and remember important information. Still, it’s estimated that one in three Americans regularly don’t get enough sleep. It can be tempting to cut down on the hours you spend sleeping when you’re feeling super busy. That’s not advisable though. You’ll end up losing the productivity somewhere else down the line.

4. Get more organized

Perhaps the single most important way that you gain more control over your day is to get a little more organized. You can waste an awful lot of time and energy running around trying to find things you’ve misplaced, or trying to prepare for important meetings at the last minute, for example. When you’re better organized, you regain some of that control and you’re less likely to feel as blindsided or as though you’ve fallen behind. Again, investing the time now will save you time, and sanity, further down the road.

5. Just do it now

Maybe you love creating organizational systems and writing—maybe even rewriting—to-do lists. In this case, lack of organization isn’t your problem. But could the opposite almost be true? Sometimes, in an effort to create the perfect system, the most orderly method of doing things, you can forget the power of just getting whatever it is done now. So the next time you find yourself trying to plan when you’re going to start working on that new project, or where to leave yourself a note about sending that email, ask yourself – could I just take care of this now? If the answer is yes, give it a try. Attending to tasks right away could help you to feel less overwhelmed, and it will slow down the growth rate of your to-do a bit.

6. Beat the crowds in the morning

You know that feeling you get when you happen to arrive to work a little before everyone else and you manage to get a ton done before the day even starts? It’s a pretty great feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice to experience something like that more regularly? If you can manage it, try getting to work a little early once in a while, maybe even routinely. Just make sure that you leave a little early too, otherwise you could just end up doing more as a result of your new morning worm-catching lifestyle.

7. Make breaks a part of your daily and yearly routine  

Finally, if you want to feel like you’re running your day rather than it running you, you have to take breaks. It may seem counterintuitive at first. How is taking time off going to help you get more done? But, downtime is important, and vacations make you more productive and creative, so the time spent away pays off in the long run. Regular vacations should be a part of your yearly routine. Similarly, taking the time to rest and recover weekly, even daily, is essential too. You’ll feel like you have more control over your day if you routinely get enough sleep, enjoy some regular exercise, and just generally take good care of yourself.

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Does it sometimes feel like your day is running you rather than the other way around? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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