Feeling Overwhelmed? Pick 6!

This time of year has a way of getting on top of people. The school year is winding down, spring/summer activities are picking up, and life just gets chaotic quickly. More often than not, I feel a little extra-overwhelmed in April and May because I have what feels like a million little things to take care of. Work stuff, home stuff, you name it. I’ve got graduation gifts to send, work to send out, Mother’s Day coming up, birthdays — just typing it all stresses me out!

I’ve got a few ways of working my way out of the overwhelmed feeling, but one of my all-time favorites (and very frequently utilized) is to pick 6. It’s a method adapted from Ivy Lee’s own pick 6 method. Now, Ivy Lee’s version differs a bit from my approach, and some of you may find her way more effective (after all, Charles Schwab liked his results so much he paid Lee $25,000 for the method back in 1918, so clearly she was doing something right).

Naturally, all my to-do lists are also in soft focus.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

So how does it work? Simple: at the start of my day, I write down every to-do item I can think of. Every passing “Oh, I need to…” that enters my head. Then, I pick 6 things that I absolutely will get done that day and put a star next to them. I allow myself a couple of softballs (stuff like logging information on a spreadsheet or sending a quick email), and I usually try to add at least one or two big things or things I’ve been putting off (see also my post about picking just one tough thing here). The point is, I just have to deal with those 6 things that day. After that, I’ve showed up for the day and been at least somewhat productive, and it’s okay if I only get to those 6 things (I can always pick 6 more tomorrow!).

This method works for me for a few reasons: first, writing everything down works a bit like a data dump (where you write down every thought for a timed period to help empty a crowded mind). Ivy Lee’s original method encourages you to only list 6 items and avoid writing the rest down, but my brain tends to circle back on tasks that need to get done at the least helpful moments (remembering that I need to wash the car while I’m trying to write an email isn’t super helpful), and writing down all the tasks I’m thinking of helps get them out of my head, even if it’s just for the day.

Second, picking 6 items lets me prioritize. By doing a task data dump and then picking 6 things that really should get done, I’m goal-setting and helping my brain home in on the few must-dos for that day. Prioritizing is an important part of productivity (Dwight Eisenhower’s productivity matrix is actually based on prioritization and assessing urgency, post on that coming soon!), and it’s another way to help your mind put down the little things that don’t really need to get done today and focus on actually getting stuff done. Basically, it helps you keep calm.

See what I did there?
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, this method helps you feel accomplished and make slow and steady progress. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s easy to enter a cycle of anxiety that (surprise, surprise) stops me from getting anything done! Making a list and setting some goals for the day helps me work through busy periods, even if it’s just 6 items at a time. 6 is also a bit of a magic number — it’s enough to fill a day and feel like you’ve been productive but not enough to overburden. You can always do more if you feel like it, but by picking 6 you can basically guarantee some level of productivity.

Thanks for reading!

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