Exhausted and struggling to prioritize tasks?

Source: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

It’s been a while between blog posts. Sometimes life happens and other tasks are paramount.

One of the key psychological skills in our hyper-connected and busy lives is understanding how to prioritize tasks and how to manage time. These skills seem simple, but they require complex executive functioning abilities, including the ability to foresee the future, evaluate various options, consider the consequences of actions (or inactions), and plan the use of our resources. . Psychologically, there are things that keep us from engaging in proper prioritization of tasks – an inability or discomfort with saying no, the sunk cost fallacy (i.e. a tendency to sue a business if we have already invested in it resources, that the current costs outweigh the benefits), a lack of understanding of opportunity costs (the opportunities we give up once we decide to commit to a course of action), and internal pressure or societal.

In my psychotherapy practice, I have noticed that clients increasingly struggle with burnout and difficulty with task prioritization. Some of this is the inevitable result of two years of pandemic life and total exhaustion from the demands life places on all of us, with a concurrently reduced ability to engage in pleasurable activities, such as socializing or holidays. Many people find it difficult to adjust their commitments to account for how tired they feel or reduced energy levels. The strong emotions, such as fear, anger and worry that we have felt in the face of the pandemic, also use cognitive resources and therefore impact our ability to give full attention to tasks. There was a feeling that life should go on as usual – although of course nothing was as usual. When working with burnout clients, I encourage them to carefully consider the tasks and commitments they have and determine if any of them can be scaled back or changed temporarily, to give themselves more time to invest. in themselves and in rest. This process has a few steps.

1. List the tasks and the different roles you occupy

Sometimes we may feel like we’re not doing much, but writing down our various commitments can help us notice small tasks (like walking the dog or taking the kids to school) that can take up a lot of time. It is important to note the roles and tasks in the personal and professional domains, as well as those that we might choose to do for ourselves (for example, exercise).

2. Write down the costs of each task

Opportunity costs involve recognizing the range of resources that tasks could absorb, including finances, time, energy, and social capital. Every task, no matter how small, has a cost.

3. Determine which tasks are essential

It is important to be pragmatic and to notice that there is a range of tasks to be done, including fulfilling the basic requirements of our professional roles and major care tasks, such as feeding our children or walking our dogs. There are other tasks that might be optional though, including extra projects or promotions at work, or optional extras such as extracurricular activities for the kids.

It helps to recognize that we can’t do everything and by stretching our energy too much, we often neglect to devote enough attention and time to the things that matter most.

4. Consider your values ​​and determine which optional tasks are most aligned with the values

Faced with an array of choices, it can be difficult to know what to choose. Trying to make decisions based on alignment with our values ​​can be a beneficial framework to use. It is helpful to consider the values ​​we hold most dear and to determine which optional tasks might be most aligned with our closest values. For example, if we strongly value community, we might wish to continue making time to socialize with our closest friends.

5. Learn to say no

This is a difficult task for many people and often requires practice and giving yourself permission.

It can be helpful to develop and practice a range of scripts for this, such as “I’d love to help, but I’m not making any new commitments at this time. Can you contact me again in six months? »

6. Remember that no decision is final

People often have a hard time saying no because they fear missing out on opportunities. It may help to remember that there are few truly unique opportunities and most decisions can be changed.

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