If you can’t find things on your desk, or you constantly forget to do things, or you can’t keep on top of your email inbox you are getting in your own way.

Of course there’s a reality to being really busy and overloaded, but if we are often or always in this state, ask yourself how does chaos serve you?

I’ll go first! Like many people there is part of me (the inner troll to be precise) that rather enjoys feeling overwhelmed. Being busy makes me feel valued and useful, and having too much to do means I can also give my victim script an outing…

So this week I’m trying to get myself more organised (not for the first time). 

I’ve tidied my desk so I can find things more easily, and because there is evidence to show that, whatever we may think, our brains work better in a more ordered environment. 

I’m also experimenting with ‘kanban’, a Japanese workflow system (my version pictured above). The idea is that you put all your tasks into three columns- to do, doing and done. So far, so not very unusual, but the key difference is that you are not allowed to have more than three items in the doing column.

At first I resisted this idea, but when I thought about it, it actually made perfect sense:

  • However much we may wish it wasn’t true, it actually isn’t possible to be working on more than three things simultaneously (or even three).
  • Knowing that an item has to stay in the middle column until it’s done, encourages us to break down tasks into small sub-tasks, which is actually much less overwhelming and gives a greater sense of progress.

I was a bit horrified by how many items were in the left-hand column at first (you can’t even see them all), but actually, just focusing on the middle ones does make me feel less overwhelmed.

I also like the fact that it’s a flow, rather than a static list, as this is more representative of the reality. One thing that can cause a lot of mental stress is trying to get everything on a to do list crossed off, when new items keep getting added to it. It’s better to just accept that this is the nature of things and focus on the ones in the middle column only.

I also like the fact that the post it notes are infinitely moveable, so I can easily change my mind about what needs my focus. Not being in constant chaos is not the same thing as thinking we’re in control of everything (we aren’t and that’s fine)

Dealing with stress is about much more than getting organised, but being disorganised really can add to the feeling of overwhelm, so it’s worth experimenting with putting a few systems in place- as well as developing better boundaries and starting to explore the deeper reasons we take on too much.