Feeling Overwhelmed By Work & Life? Try This Simple Strategy

I have to be honest here: I started my blog 3 months ago, and it still overwhelms me.

The problem is easily summarized – There is too much to do, and not enough time.

Writing content, increasing web traffic, networking with other bloggers, working on blog design, participating in social media – just to name a few.

With all these different activities in mind, it’s hard to get things done. It seems that I enter a circle without getting actual results. Often times, my typical daily blog routine looks like this:

I start my day by checking my Google Analytics account, which reveals the weak spots of my marketing strategy. For example, I find out that my blog traffic from Quora is low.

Hence, I log into my Quora Account, take a look at my stats and figure out that I lack upvotes from other users. I start to google „how to get upvotes on Quora“.

While I’m browsing through the web for a solution, I suddenly remember: „Heck, I didn’t write at all today“. Immediately I jump to action and start to write a new blog post.

But at this moment of time, my creative energy is pretty much gone after all of my earlier work. At the end of this day, I feel as If I didn’t get anything done at all. That sense of accomplishment is missing.

To-Do Lists Are Ok, But …

I think many people can relate to this phenomenon. People experience it on many occasions, be it on work, personal projects or in their daily lives. It’s the disease of our generation. We are overwhelmed by our todo-lists, information overload, and daily decisions.

Me personally, I was not satisfied with the results of my daily blogging routine. I wanted to achieve the following things:

  • Make daily progress
  • Avoid information overload and decision fatigue
  • Focus on one activity without jumping from one task to another

Of course, one imaginable solution would be a plain old todo-list. But with all due respect to todo-lists, I think they are overrated.

On one hand, todo-lists are stressful and exhausting. It’s hard to break down every detail of an action plan.

On the other hand, todo-lists focus mainly on the details of organization. However, they don’t serve you well with juggling several activities at the same time.

In some way, todo-lists assume a perfect world where tasks are performed sequentially and never change. But as we all know, this almost never happens. Almost any project, be it in life or work, tends to get chaotic and unpredictable.

Rules Rule

No – I needed another solution. My goal was a simple but powerful concept that helps me to get things done without too much planning.

Eventually, I came up with a concept called Smart Rules.

To explain how it works, we need to go back to our childhood. As a kid, almost every one of us had to follow rules:

  • Don’t eat candy before dinner
  • Don’t run around while holding scissors
  • Put your stuff back when you are done playing

I know what you think – What’s the point? C’mon, rules are boring, and nobody likes them.

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. However, the power of rules is extremely underrated. Wrongfully, because rules work astonishingly well, and they have a wide range of applications.

Rules raise children, hold societies together, and keep religions alive.

So maybe, they could help me to manage my „10-visitors-per-day” blog?

My “Rules Experiment”

I gave this simple idea a try and wrote down the top 3 problems of my daily blogging routine. In each case, I came up with a rule to counter that problem.

Problem 1 – Multi-Tasing

I am constantly switching between marketing and content creation, which is exhausting and unproductive.

Smart Rule 1 – On weekdays, I focus on marketing and brainstorming blog post ideas. On the weekend, I only write blog posts.

The reason for this is easily explained –  blog posts need more creative energy, concentrated work, and a quiet environment. These conditions are given on the weekend. In contrast to that, I find it easier to spread out my marketing tasks over my hectic working week.

Problem 2 – Information Overload

I consume too much information. When I dive into a new topic (like „Quora Marketing“), I want to know everything about it before putting my knowledge into practice. As a result, I suffer from information paralysis and delay in implementing my learned lessons.

Smart Rule 2 – I’m only looking for new information when I experience an actual problem (i.e. “not enough upvotes on Quora”). Then, I read a maximum of three web resources and put this knowledge immediately into practice for at least one week. If this strategy doesn’t get me results, I read the next three web resources.

Problem 3 – Work-Life-Balance

I am working on my blog almost every day. This increases the chance of losing passion and burning out.

Smart Rule 3 – I am only working 4 days a week on my blog. On the other 3 days, I relax or work on other fun projects.

My Surprising Results

At first sight, my rules seemed trivial. But I stuck to them for several weeks.

Now I don’t want to promise too much, but for me, „smart rules“ clearly worked. I experienced the following improvements:

  • Increased Productivity: By following these three simple rules, I have started to get more things done. I have finished blog posts and started to implement my marketing strategy more thoroughly. Now I know what needs to be done, and when to do it.
  • More Motivation: I’ve been less overwhelmed and more decisive, which in turn has led to more energy and motivation. It’s a great feeling to know that I have a simple method that sorts out my daily blogging routine.
  • Clearer Vision: Once the daily “blogging stuff ” (writing, marketing) has been sorted out, I had more energy to focus on the long-term strategy and -vision of my blog.

So far, so good.

This success forces me to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Why did three simple rules make such a significant difference?

The Science Behind Smart Rules

Put simply, rules reduce complexity.

They automate your thinking patterns and help to make fewer decisions.

As a result, the main memory of your brain increases. You can focus on the actual task instead of juggling countless activities in the back of your head. Multitasking, which doesn’t work anyway, is no longer needed.

The power of rules can be illustrated with a simple example.

Imagine you have to complete 4 different activities („A“, „B“, „C“ and „D“), but their execution order does not matter. How many possibilities do you have?

ABCD, ABDC, ACBD, ACDB, ADBC, ADCB,
BACD, BADC, BCAD, BCDA, BDAC, BDCA,
CABD, CADB, CBAD, CBDA, CDAB, CDBA,
DABC, DACB, DBAC, DBCA, DCAB, DCBA.

There you have it – 24 possibilities to arrange 4 different activities.

But now, let’s add two simple rules:

  1. Activity „C” has to follow directly after activity „B“
  2. „D“ is the last activity

What do you think, how many possibilities are left?

Well, 2 possibilities.

ABCD, BCAD.

As you can see, two simple rules reduced the complexity by more than 90%.

 

Swarm Intelligence

The phenomenon of simple rules forming complex behaviors is well researched. Scientists call it „Swarm Intelligence“. It means „emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve any central coordination“ [1].

You can experience this phenomenon every single autumn in the skies all around the world. It is when thousands of birds come together in swarms to start off their bird migration.

Every single bird complies with a small set of simple rules. But as a whole, the flock of birds forms an intelligent and resilient organism. The same is the case for ant colonies and fish swarms.

A great explanation of emergence can be found in this video:

How To Design Smart Rules

All theory aside – How to come up with your own smart rules?

First of all, you need to know in which cases they should be used.

Smart rules are especially suited for hectic and complex environments. Such environments are characterized by managing countless activities as well as the non-existence of a perfect and straightforward solution.

Daily working life is a great place to start with smart rules. You have to analyze problems, design solutions, talk to customers and colleagues, respond to email and keep yourself up-to-date. There is no single solution to achieve all of this. Rather, you try to stay afloat by going with the flow.

Ok, once you identified an application area for smart rules, you need to define your concrete problems. As you have already seen in this blog post, I did this for my blogging routine.

9-to-5 workers have these typical problems:

  • Managing several projects at the same time
  • Overwhelmed by daily email
  • Unproductive meetings

Once your problems are defined, it’s time to come up with smart rules to counter them.

From my own experience, a smart rule must have three important characteristics:

  • Easy: Smart rules shouldn’t make you think too much. If your rule isn’t easy, you won’t stick to it. Thus, they must be easy to formulate and easy to remember.
  • Embeddable: A smart rule has to match its environment. If your smart rule deviates too much from your typical behavior, you won’t follow it. For example, don’t create an extensive morning routine if you know that you aren’t a morning person.
  • Smart: If you analyze my own smart rules, you will notice that they „hack” my own weaknesses (forgetfulness, inconsistency, or the overestimation of abilities) by using knowledge from psychology or productivity. Learn how your weaknesses can be compensated and include this knowledge in your smart rules.

3 Easy Templates For Smart Rules

A great way to come up with smart rules is the use of templates. Smart rules are generally based on 3 types.

Type 1) Sequential Constraint

  • This week I focus on Project A, next week I focus on Project B.
  • I do marketing on weekdays, and write blog posts on the weekend.

Type 2) Time Constraint

  • I check my emails twice a day.
  • I work 4 days a week on my blog.

Type 3) Conditional Constraint

  • Whenever I attend a meeting, I take notes.
  • I only look for new information when I experience an actual problem.

How To Go From Here

It should be noted that smart rules don’t replace the development of a detailed strategy. Rather, they serve as a foundation to handle chaotic environments in a quick and effective way.

For example, at the beginning of a complex project, smart rules are a perfect way to get things going.

But once your project takes off, you should combine smart rules with a more goal-oriented approach. Two feasible solutions are Gantt charts or the GDT-method.