Firstly, when we are experiencing adverse pressure, it’s helpful to know what is going on in our mind and body. The amygdala is the part of our brain that regulates our emotions. When it identifies a threat (such as too much to do in the time we have available to us), it signals to the body to provide energy in preparation for fight or flight. Adrenalin and Cortisol are released into the body to increase our alertness, provide energy and stimulate appetite to replace it. Whilst all this is going on, the neo cortex, the logical part of our brain that enables us to apply logic and problem-solve, is disabled, leading to our sense of overwhelm.  

Conscious, focussed breathing is a simple and highly-effective tool, which can consciously counteract the subconscious conditioning that is creating havoc in our mind and body. Deep belly or diaphragmatic breathing is the quickest way to relaxation, because it slows down your heart rate, reduces blood pressure, slows brain wave activity and reduces muscle tension. It can help return our body to homeostasis and enable our neo cortex to function.  

Step One – Breathe

Sit comfortably with your spine upright or laying straight back and start to focus on your breath. Gradually increase the length of both inhalation and exhalation until both are long, slow and of the same count. Breathe in deeply, down into the belly. Relax the shoulders and chest and allow the ribcage to loosen and inflate. This is called Diaphragmatic breathing. Slow your exhale to even your inhale. It’s often helpful to count your breath in and out to ensure a slow, even cycle that also takes the focus of your mind away from the stressful or worrying reactive thoughts that are manifesting in your body. Remind yourself in that moment that you are, indeed, safe. It’s just your mind running away with itself. Right now, in this moment, you are safe, and all is well.

Once we feel calmer, we are now in a position to think about how to prioritise and get organised.  

Step Two – What’s most important to YOU?

When learning how to prioritise, it’s helpful to consider what is most important to you in your life right now. These aren’t the thoughts or tasks that have been buzzing in your head. These are the fundamental things in your life that you value the most. Write these things down, max 3 bullets.

Step Three – Write down everything on your plate

Write down everything that’s on your plate right now. Avoid analysis or any particular order, just get it all down on paper. Once it is all visible, it’s easier to identify how to prioritise.

Step Four – Determine which are important and urgent

Refer to the tasks you have written down. Take each one in turn and ask yourself:

Is it URGENT? Urgent tasks require immediate attention, they cannot be ignored. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be you who completes all of these tasks.  

Is it IMPORTANT? – Will it contribute to one of your bullet points, your values or your highest priority goals in life?

If we have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we can more easily avoid being diverted into responding to the urgent, even when these urgent tasks are not important to us.  

Really challenge yourself when thinking about how to prioritise.  

Step 5 – Plot tasks on the grid

Plot everything in the appropriate box on the grid above according to whether you will choose to; do, plan, delegate or eliminate.  

Source: Stephen R Covey – 7 Habits of highly effective people

Step 6 – Take action

Once you’ve plotted your current tasks, you can start taking action. First, delegate the tasks in box III so that they are taken care of and ditch or ignore those in box IV. Already this should help you to feel less overwhelmed with fewer tasks on your plate. Now start completing the tasks in box I, take them one at a time and remain focussed.    

When other tasks crop up, remain disciplined by allocating them to the appropriate box. Once you have completed the tasks in box I, your mind should be calm and clear enough to tackle those really important, less urgent tasks in box II. These are the ones that align to the bullets you wrote that are vitally important to you, so will feel truly rewarding.

In summary, when considering how to prioritise, take the following steps:

1. Breathe – calm your mind and body via some diaphragmatic breathing techniques

2. Be clear about what’s most important – to you, in your life, right now

3. Write everything down – it helps to visibly see it

4. Determine which are important and urgent

5. Plot tasks on the grid – decide whether to do, plan, delegate or eliminate

6. Take action – remain focussed and you’ll lighten the load! 

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