Five Focuses: A strategy for prioritizing and calming work chaos



For many of us, work has been a source of overwhelming emotions for the last couple of years, and even though my focus is mental health I still sometimes find myself lost in the chaos of just trying to get through the day or to the weekend which always promises to be "better". There has been so much unbalanced in my life as of late when it comes to work that I needed a reset. The balance that I needed wasn't only in my work - life balance. There were several areas where I was struggling.


  1. In trying to be helpful, I was taking on way too much work. I was saying yes to everything. I was not prioritizing things that needed to be done before I could take things on that didn't need to be done because in my head EVERYTHING was important.

  2. I lacked balance in reading/research and creating. When I spend too much time reading and researching, I feel like I'm not producing anything of worth and it makes me anxious. When I spend too much time creating, I feel anxious because I am not keeping up with the latest research in anything. Either way, I was lacking balance here.

  3. I was spending too much time on what I needed to do rather than in my passion area. While I'm all for anything in education, there are some spaces that give me more purpose. Some things I do that make me feel like I'm really contributing to something important. When I start to ignore those passion areas, my connection to my job becomes flat and I start to question what I'm even doing in my current role in any organization.

  4. I couldn't keep up with my to-do list and started to cry when I didn't get it done. That's when you know it's time to take action.


I knew I needed to find a strategy that was going to help me clarify what I needed to accomplish for the month without making a to-do list because obviously, that wasn't helping. Instead, I wrote down overarching themes that I needed to work on and started assigning a number of days that I needed to work on that particular project. I wrote down both things that I wanted to do that filled my cup and things I needed to do.


Then, I prioritized the list. THIS WAS THE HARDEST PART because when I prioritized, I ultimately needed to assign a priority to things that I WANTED to accomplish, and as humans we tend to prioritize things that other people want us to do over things that create a feeling of purpose. However, this is the most critical part of the strategy in order to find the balance and keep me connected to my work.


Next, I looked at the top five priorities that I had written down and the number of days I had assigned to them and asked myself if it was possible that I had enough days in the month to get those accomplished and I did. Your "number of days" is entirely how you decide to assign days. If you plan on working two hours a day on these projects, then it would be two hours, so if you have a project taking 10 hours then you would need five days. If you're dedicating 10 hours to a day then it would be 10 hours and you would need one day. My list looked like this:


Consulting (Need to do)

EduMatch Website (Need to do)

New Manuscript Submission (Want to do)

Media/blog proposals (Want to do)

EduMatch COO Work (Need and Want to do)


Now, I also work a district job for this school year and that was something I need to do every day and so it wasn't on the priority list because it was just a given. I also have a to-do list for that job, but I kept it separate. That being said, I think this entire process could be done within the confines of a job being accomplished in a district. I also did not include my doctoral work because that also was a given. I was looking at other projects that were taking my time outside of those two activities.


Once I had my focuses and my days, I set up a special focus calendar for each day needed. I made sure to try to keep my weekends free, and I also tried to keep a few days during the week free for unexpected projects or when a day just doesn't go as planned. I already had to move one of the days to the weekend because I made the choice to give myself a break during the week. However, by not scheduling on the weekends I was able to have that flexibility to do that. If I'm not more organized, I find myself working all through the weekend as well, which just isn't healthy.


Do I ignore my other priorities? No. I have the original, prioritized list that I can work on if a project doesn't take as long as I thought it would and I find that I have extra time. Also, as I do this monthly, those priorities will take precedence as I move into scheduling my next month.


This has also helped me in scheduling activities that do not fall within these priorities. If I get asked to attend a meeting that does not fall in the "need to do" then I can look at that day and see if taking the time away from the scheduled focus area will allow me to get it done. If it won't, the meeting needs to be moved to a day that works. It has forced me to take a look at my schedule overall and prioritize what is happening, which has lessened the overwhelming feelings and chaos that had been ruling my life the last few months.


I would love to hear from anyone else who is doing something like this or has tried this. Please leave a comment below so we can all learn these strategies from each other.


Simplified Steps:

  1. Write down all your must-dos and your want-to-dos.

  2. Prioritize them keeping in mind that your want-to-dos are what keep you engaged so they are important.

  3. Look at your top five priorities. Ensure you have a mix of wants and musts.

  4. Decide how many hours will equal a day and assign the number of days that each task will take.

  5. Add them to your calendar. Leave days open for available bandwidth if something needs to be changed.


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