When we are overwhelmed, it can be hard to take on a new project. We know that we need to tackle that pile of paperwork or buckle down and finish a project. We also know we need to systematize our business or to delegate, but when? If we are already overwhelmed, it can be hard to set aside time to get organized.

I see it all the time, clients who are too overwhelmed to take action. They can spend weeks or even months with the same challenge but remain adamant about why they can’t take action right now. When everything feels like a priority, nothing gets done. The truth is, if you don’t set aside time to chip away at the overwhelming projects, and create systems to manage them moving forward, they will only get bigger.

A system is a plan to stay organized and on top of things, allowing you to maintain control even when things change or get busy. Creating a system can, at times, be a project in itself. Still, no matter how big or small that project may feel, you can break it down into manageable pieces by following these basic steps:

Make a Plan to Get Organized

First you need to make a plan. This includes defining the tools to be used, creating the structure and even planning the transition to this new system. Set aside 30 minutes to really think about what needs to be done. If others are involved in the project or using the system that you are organizing, write that down. You may consider taking a few minutes to collaborate with key people on your team to find out how they have used certain tools or information in the past.

A common example, which we touched on in Systems for Taming Information Overload, is file storage. If we don’t have a system for storing information, it can easily spiral out of control. Then you wake up one day and realize your computer desktop is cluttered with icons and files or you find yourself recreating a document you swore you had ……somewhere. In this example, you need to stop and consider all the tools you have been using and how you have been using them. Do you have some client information on your hard drive but other information in Dropbox? Do you have some files in your Google drive but also have some paper notes that need to be entered but haven’t created a system for that part of the process yet? If you share files with team members or clients, it’s important to consider their access and how they will be using the files as well.

Once you have all this information, take a break! You’re not going to be able to change everything in one sitting. Stepping away will help you make better decisions because it gives your mind the opportunity to process what you have and what you need. When you do return, decide what one location is the best place to store the information in question and how you will organize it. It is important to make this decision before you begin. Trying to “wing it” once you’ve started will only create additional stress and overwhelm.

Make a Firm Commitment to Get Organized

Next, make a firm commitment to use the system, from that day forward. This means, if you are moving to one tool for document storage, everything is stored in that new location from that day forward. There is no going back at this point.

The focus here should not be on the past information. If you’re moving from one location to another, past information should be addressed separately (and may be a process over time). All new information should be handled within the new system and structure that you are creating. Document the system in your SOP Guide and notify your team of the change. Depending on the size of the project, this may be a matter of simply addressing it at the regular team meeting or, if more involved, scheduling a separate meeting and even training. When working with others, your commitment to the system will shine through. Lead by example and stick to your firm commitment.

Maintain Your New System

Finally, there is maintenance. Throughout the process, you will need to evaluate and review the new system for improvements. This will continue periodically to make sure things are continuing as expected and make changes where necessary. It is also important to catch chaos before it begins. If files are getting out of control, information overload will resurface. As you and/or your team become more comfortable with the new system, create a plan to tackle any prior data that may need to be transitioned to the new system.

Using our earlier example of digital file storage, I like to create a folder for each batch of information that needs to be organized. If your desktop is cluttered with files, drag all the files into a folder to sort later and label it appropriately. You would be surprised how dragging and dropping a few files a day into the appropriate location can quickly organize what once seemed impossible. Removing this digital clutter from site and seeing your progress, is sure to ease overwhelm and clear your energy to tackle the next project.

5 Day Systems Challenge

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