Recently one of my clients was struggling to stay above the fray. You know what I mean: when there is SO much to get done that it begins to swarm around us and we don’t know what to do first! So, what often ends up happening is we start several items on our list, trying to get on top of them, only to not finish any of them. Before you know it, we end up staring into space, frustrated, and often are snippy and short with others. We bark out orders, voice irritation to other team members when deadlines are missed, and ultimately create a chaotic frenzy in our offices. Here are 3 tips to keep in mind:

breathe constrained time1. Breathe.When we are running around in a panic, figuratively or literally, we can’t think straight. We need to slow down. Think through what are the 2 or 3 key things which need to get done first. Then, compartmentalize these into areas of focus. Just by simply slowing down and breathing, we can stop the frenetic energy.

2. Delegate.Many of us wait to delegate until we are basically underwater and drowning. Why wait?  Once we have our list of things to accomplish, what can be parceled out to other team members or contract workers? Set clear expectations when these tasks need to be accomplished. Keep communication lines open so everyone is aware of the progress. And most importantly, remember that our lack of organization and/or appropriate time management is our issue – not our team member’s. So, set expectations fairly for time lines and remember to thank anyone who is helping you. Just because they are being paid to do a job, does not mean we are not grateful for their efforts.

Remember: “It takes a village.” We never get anywhere alone. Ever. Thank those that extend a hand – they deserve it.

breathe constrained time big rocks3. Focus on the Big Rocks. Not too long ago, I was working with a large health-care organization through their strategic planning process. It was quite complex and involves focusing all levels and their associated responsibilities, from the CEO down to the first shift nurse, into alignment around their overall objectives. For a system that employs tens of thousands of individuals and services thousands more, this is no simple feat. The group leading this effort introduced new terminology to try to keep the process as easy to comprehend as possible. They labeled the main key objectives for the institution their “Big Rocks.”  Of course, many of us remember this metaphor from Steven Covey’s book, First Things First. He uses this as his foundation for his philosophy on time management and strategic thinking.

Coincidentally, earlier this summer, I was reading Michael J. Fox’s book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future and he actually opens his book with a little vignette on “Big Rocks.” In a nutshell, he tells the story of a professor who has a large, empty pickle jar and a set of golf-ball sized rocks. He drops these rocks into the jar until they reach the brim. He then asks the class, “Is the jar full?” and of course, many hands shoot up and say “Yes, it’s full.” He then pulls out a sack of sand and begins to pour the sand around the rocks. Tiny grains cascade in and around until there is no space left in the jar. “Is it full now?” and the class universally said, “Yes! But wait,” he says, and pulls out a can of beer. He begins to pour the beer all around until every last crevice was filled. “Now – it’s full.”

He finished the story by saying this jar represents your life. Make sure the first ingredients are the big stuff – the big rocks! In our lives, this may be our family, our faith, our friends, our health, our passions, and our careers. In our companies and our organizations – these are the things that absolutely MUST happen in order for us to be individually and collectively successful. These are our #1 priorities. Everything else is supportive of these priorities and in some cases just minutiae.

This makes perfect sense – and yet, we often get caught up in the noise that will do little to support what is really important to us.

breathe constrained time beerOf course, the students then ask the professor: “But, what about the beer?!” And he simply responded: “After everything else, you always need to make room for a couple of beers (or something else) with friends.”

Sure it’s important to keep our eyes and energies on the ‘Big Rocks!” Great advice and a great metaphor! So in the heat of the summer, and often in the heat of the moment, t is equally important to celebrate progress, open something cold, and say “Cheers!”