Becoming overwhelmed is easy. Busy professionals have to deal with team performance, their boss, their directs, demanding clients, business partners, vendors, and more. They also have car problems, leaky faucets, untended gardens, messy garages, bills to pay, children who are teething or in puberty, or starting college. The list goes on.
Listen to people in elevators or waiting in line for a cup of coffee, and the litany of problems everyone is facing seems endless. I am no different, but I decided to challenge the assumption and do something besides lament and overindulge in chocolate.
In my mind, I figured I had 99 problems. See how many you have. Get some coffee and give yourself ten minutes to write down all your troubles. There are two limits to this exercise. You cannot list more than 99 problems, and you cannot exceed the allotted ten minutes.
I ended up with 50, so already I felt better. I only had half the problems I initially thought.
The reason for the limit is to capture your top of mind pressing issues. Most of these present themselves within two minutes. Stopping after ten minutes prevents a pity party from forming.
Look over your list and consolidate where you can. You may have written something twice, or called it something similar. Towards the end of the list, your mind may have started encouraging you to write goals instead of obstacles. For example, my last item was travel. Travel is not a problem, though I would like to do more than I am currently doing. The reasons why I am not, could be a problem, but guess what? Too late. I am past my ten-minute mark, so travel gets crossed off. If I could not articulate it clearly, it’s not a pressing problem. Condense your list as much as you can.
Next, place a Y beside each item you could do something about. There’s no guarantee you will, but be honest, if there is anything you can do to improve your condition, mark it. If there is not, if the issue is out of your control, cross it off. If you cannot do anything about it, stop thinking about it.
Next, prioritize the remaining problems. Using a variation of Maslow’s needs made sense to me. Rank each problem in the following manner:
- Place an 1, next to any Biological and Physiological needs (The basic needs; air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.).
- Place a 2, next to any Safety needs (Shelter, security, order, law, stability, healthcare, etc.).
- Place a 3, next to any Love and Belongingness needs (family, affection, relationships workgroups, friendships, intimacy, acceptance).
- Place a 4, next to any Esteem needs (status, prestige, social recognition, and accomplishment, etc.).
- Place a 5, next to any Cognitive needs (knowledge, meaning, self-awareness etc.).
- Place a 6, next to any Aesthetic needs (appreciation, search for beauty, balance, form, etc.).
- Place a 7, next to any Self-Actualization needs (striving for full personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth.).
- Place an 8, next to any Transcendence needs (helping others to achieve self-actualization.)
The 80/20 rule inspired me to reduce my list to 20% of my original 50. If you had 99 problems, you’d focus on no more than 20.
Populate your reduced list of problems, ranked numerically. Start with items labeled with a 1, then a 2, etc. Theoretically, 80% of the problems that occupy your time will be on this smaller list. That is still too many, so cut it in half. This will leave you with a reasonable number of problems (between 1 and 10).
Finally, turn each of these into an action item. For example, “Car needs new struts,” becomes “Get quote for new struts.” Schedule each activity on your calendar, or if possible, act on them now and resolve them.
Everybody has problems, even those who chose to call them opportunities. Now you have a tool to tame yours. Good luck.
Karl Bimshas is an Executive Accountability Partner who helps new leaders and leaders in transition to act on purpose, not by accident. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit;Strategies to get over yourself“.