Front Loading for Less Stress

The most ironic thing about this post is that I had a weird week where I actually didn’t get to front load and it’s totally f’d up my whole sense of organization.

People use different metaphors or ways to explain that feeling you get when you start to slow down. Sometimes people call it a crash, sometimes they just say they are done, sometimes they call it a wall. Whatever you call it, we’re talking about the same thing.

I hit two types of mental walls on a fairly consistent basis.

  1. My daily mental wall where I lose my ability to focus and where my motivation drops. This usually happens around 3pm but can vary pending on how the day has gone.
  2. My end of the week wall where I start to lost motivation in terms of starting anything new.

I’ve talked a bit about how our brains work in terms of energy consumption and focus but I wanted to dive a bit more into mental fatigue and motivation.

lighted match with smoke on black background

Why is starting is hard and why that matters.

The reason that the back half of the week feels harder than the front half is because you’ve already started draining your metaphorical gas tank. Initiating something new tends to burn up a lot more gas than diving into something you’re already familiar with, so whether it’s your conscious. or subconscious at play, you’re going to avoid it.

For me, it usually takes me more time to figure how to start something than it does to actually do it. Part of that is because I’m trying to avoid painful moments I’ve experienced in the past like:

  • Not having the information I need to complete the task.
  • Not having the tools I need to complete the task.
  • Not understand what steps need to happen to complete the task.
  • Not knowing what order the steps need to be in or why that is important.

All of these things cause you to slam on the breaks after you’ve gotten through one of the biggest hurdles (starting), which ultimately causes you to burn even more of your “gas tank”. If you’re anything like me, moments like this turn motivation into frustration very quickly and may even result in avoidance and procrastination.

Note: I’m not saying that I never start something new on a Thursday or Friday. What I’m saying is that I intentionally avoid having to do that when possible. If I get to the end of the week and I have some time to play around with, I might get a head start on something I’m excited about doing.

Front loading the “have to’s”

I’ve talked a bit about how helpful lists can be when you’re dealing with a semi-functional working memory (like we all are). Regardless of how you structure or organize your list, you should identify the things that HAVE to get done and WHEN they have to get done.

While I feel silly saying it, I’ve seen a lot of people struggle to make very easy decisions about what to work on.

You should be working on the most important thing that needs to be done by the closest point in time.

I know this isn’t always as black and white as it sounds but 90% of the time, it works every time.

When it comes to weighing the importance of the things you’re trying to get done, you should take a little time to estimate how long you think they will take you. This can help to ease your anxiety and also identify any trade-offs you might need to make — in the event you actually can’t get everything done.

How front-loading helps with other things:

  • Front loading helps you set better expectations for anything else other people ask you to take on. At the very least, you can say, “Sure, I can get to that after x, y, and z.”
  • Front loading can help prevent you from agreeing to take on too many other things or from looking for something else to dive into.
  • Front loading helps develop a sense of accomplishment earlier in the week and makes it easier for you to take a break or slow down a bit later on — recovering from the time spent working in “overdrive”.
  • Front loading will ease the anxiety that builds up around whether or not you’ll actually be able to get the big and important things done. It naturally defeats our tendency to procrastinate and, while I am always what can be accomplished in crunch mode, I’d rather not rely on my ability to perform under high stress.
  • Front loading makes it easier to leverage your bouts of hyper-focus. Working on something big/important makes it much easier to slip into that state and you can generally get to a significant milestone and a nice break/stopping point after that window of hyper-focused work.

If you’re not already doing this, give it a try and let me know how it goes. I’ve operated in a way where I was sprinting through the end of the week and where I actually have a lot of breathing room and I’m generally less stressed and more productive this way.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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