By Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
Reprinted with Permission
Let me tell you about a recurring dream I have.
In one version of the dream, I’m transported back to my 16-year-old self. I’m on my old newspaper route, about to start delivering.
There’s only one problem:
I woke up late. Which means I packed my newspapers late. Which means I got to my route late.
And now it’s 6:43, and I have 150 newspapers to deliver by 7:00 am—before I start getting complaints.
It’s an impossible task.
What follows is an immense sense of anxiety. A feeling of pressure on every part of my body.
Usually, I wake up at this point in a cold sweat. I’m thankful that it was only a dream, until…
I realize that there’s some real-life situation that’s bringing me real-life anxiety, and a real-life feeling of “overwhelm-ed-ness.”
There’s no point, I tell myself. Why even try?
But deep down, I know I have to try.
I hate giving up, even when the odds are stacked against me.
After facing enough overwhelming situations, I’ve discovered a rule that helps me to push those negative feelings down, move forward, and do what I need to do.
I like to call it, “first things first.”
First things first
When I find myself in an “impossible paper route situation,” I tell myself to focus on first things, first.
In other words, I narrow my focus so I only think about the first few things I need to do. I push everything else to the side and refuse to think about it. This allows me to avoid getting overwhelmed by the sheer immenseness of the situation or the countless number of tasks ahead of me.
Once I’ve chosen my three things, I designate one as most important.
Then, I start chipping away.
First things, first has proven invaluable for several reasons.
Here are four of them:
1. It helps me avoid analysis paralysis.
When you have a monumental task in front of you (or several of them), you get frozen. Tempted to not do anything. Which for me, means watching YouTube for hours.
But by shrinking the tasks in front of you to two or three, everything looks manageable. You trick your mind into thinking that you’ve got everything under control—thus putting yourself in position to be productive.
And the great thing about productivity is…
2. It builds momentum.
That’s right: Productivity swells, and expands, and builds on itself.
Once you finish a task…and another…and another…
You start feeling that sense of accomplishment. You get hooked. You want to keep going, because you see that you’re producing results and you’re excited about what it all means.
Once you start building momentum…
3. You see more clearly.
In the “paperboy” nightmare, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You can’t visualize everything you need to do to finish the job, because it’s all just too much.
But once you start building momentum, you clearly see the path forward for all the other things you need to do.
And once you see clearly, it really gets good.
4. You start to believe.
All the things you thought would go wrong haven’t gone wrong.
The impossible task is no longer impossible.
You’re no longer in a dark place. In fact, things look great.
Following the rule of first things first is how:
- Championship sports teams come back from huge deficits.
- Entrepreneurs turn ideas into companies.
- Singers turn melodies into albums.
- Authors turn words into books.
- Artists turn sketches into masterpieces.
- And paperboys finish their routes…Even when they get very late starts.
When you feel you’re struggling with too much on your plate, follow the rule of first things first.
Choose one to three tasks you can get done today.
And if that’s still too much, focus on one.
Then, start chipping away, one thing at a time.
When you put first things first, you’ll. . .
- avoid analysis paralysis
- ward off anxiety
- get more accomplished
- build confidence in your own abilities
Use this handy worksheet to explore EQ Rule #8: Emotional Intelligence: First Things First
About the Author
Justin Bariso, Principal, EQ Applied
The founder of EQ Applied, Justin Bariso helps organizations and individuals develop their emotional intelligence. His thoughts on leadership and EQ draw over a million readers a month, and LinkedIn named him a “Top Voice” in the field of management and workplace culture three years in a row. His book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, shares fascinating research, modern examples, and personal stories that illustrate how emotional intelligence works in the real world. Email: [email protected]
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