Sometimes I make a pressure calendar — a quick, disposable calendar that helps me think clearly when I feel overwhelmed. Here’s one I made the other day.
I use pressure calendars when my to-do list is full of tasks that seem equally important, or tasks that could each consume all of my available time (like when I have speaking engagements or deadlines approaching). A pressure calendar shows me how much time I have, and helps me spend that time wisely.
It’s a printout from my calendar app, so for starters I can see scheduled commitments. If I have family visiting for a few days, for example, I know I won’t be working in the morning on those days. If I have travel plans, I know I’ll spend the night before packing. And so on.
I draw horizontal lines on the printout to divide days into thirds. Into the available chunks, I pencil in tasks. This helps me judge available time realistically, because I know I can expect four hours of productive time in each third of a calendar day. What can I get done in four hours?
In practice, things never go exactly according to my penciled-in plan. Stuff happens, so I cross off the days that have passed, erase as needed, and sketch out new plans. Although this kind of editing can get messy, it helps to be able to wrap my head around my tasks in a time-related way without having to use software; hassles and overhead that wouldn’t normally bother me can really stress me out when I’m under pressure.
I refer to the pressure calendar constantly until I no longer feel overwhelmed — and then it’s amazing. Amazing to see how much I accomplished in a short span of time. Amazing to reflect on the stress I felt. And amazing to take all that stress, crumple it up, and toss it in the trash.