It was a sunny, fall afternoon that found me standing in the middle of my unswept kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes, a clean load of dishes waiting to be put away, and food still sitting on the counter from lunch. I had just put the kids down for their naps and was ready to get moving on the tasks that had accumulated over the course of a few extra-busy days. Even though there were plenty of things right in front of me I could have started with, all I could see was a mass of “unfinished-ness” that could never be completed in a day, let alone a single nap time. On top of the kitchen, there were overflowing laundry baskets to be dealt with (clean and dirty), mail to sort, an article to write, and several emails and texts that were awaiting my response. And rather than finding a starting place, I instead found myself caving under the mental pressure, completely paralyzed by the work in front of me that had (seemingly) no end in sight.
My guess is that this scenario is something you can relate with on some level. Even when we’ve put a schedule in place and have a regular routine, there are unexpected things that come up – a child that gets sick, an unplanned meeting, or a friend that drops in needing encouragement. We’ll never be able to avoid or anticipate all those things, but we can put in place tools to help us keeping moving and get back on track when our “normal” is thrown off.
So, what do we do when we get backed up? When the workload seems overwhelming, and we can’t see the way through it to the other side.
Here are three things that have been incredibly helpful to me as I’ve sought to grow in this area of my life.
Before anything else, we have to acknowledge that first things must come first. And for Christians, this means making Jesus the number one priority of our day. In whatever we do, it all must be for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), and if our motive is ultimately anything other than this, it is in vain. So, as much as possible, we need to make time with Him every day in the Word and in prayer to be our highest priority, being sure your foundation and focus are fully on Him. This is one of the means of grace God uses to give us what we need to live according to His ways and enabled by His power. The way this happens looks different for everyone, depending on seasons and circumstances of life, but if you ask God to help you make this a priority, He will show you the opportunities you do have to spend that time with Him. If possible, schedule this into your day as the top priority, and fit everything else around it.
Once you have the foundational things in place, start by making a list of all the tasks that come to mind that need to be done. Then, look at that list and prioritize them from most important to least important. figure out what needs to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow.
For example, if I have an email to respond to, but it is not urgent, than rather than seeing it as something I need to do right this moment, I put it on my list to do tomorrow or the next day. But if it’s time sensitive, then it goes on my list of top things to do. Once I take care of that, the next item moves to the top.
And rather than having 10 things to do, and accomplishing only five, I start by putting three things as my priority, and anything beyond that becomes a “bonus” task.
2. Do the Next Thing
This is a phrase I’ve heard from various sources and said in slightly different ways, but the idea behind it has been very helpful to me as I’ve sought to overcome the feelings of anxiety that arise when I’m up to my ears in tasks. It helps me to take a step back and look at each task individually rather than as a mountain I can’t climb.
The ultimate, Biblical principle behind this is Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
All I need to do is look to the Lord for what is in front of me right now, and ask Him to help me know what is priority.
This can be really helpful if you’re having a hard time figuring out what your top priority tasks are. When you’re looking around at all that needs to be done, you can ask yourself, “What is the next right thing to do?” and often this will help bring things into focus.
3. Have a “Jumpstart” task
I have heard others use this tactic as well, and it has been so helpful for me. When I am beginning to feel that same paralyzing feeling that comes from having lots of things to do, I have my “go-to” task that helps to jump-start the movement of productivity. For me, this is dishes. I almost always have at least one dish that can be washed or put in the dishwasher, so I start there. This propels me into the next task, and soon I’ve accomplished far more than I would have if I had given into that feeling.
No matter what methods you put in place, whether it’s these things that have been helpful for me or other things, we must keep in mind that God is the one who enables us by His grace to do all He has called us to. When the tasks are too many to accomplish, He will show us what is important, and what we can let go of. He can and will help us to walk through our days, doing all we do for His glory and to love and serve those around us.