If You’re Drowning in Chaos, This is Your Rescue Ladder

Overwhelmed

I’ve started my blog more than 1 year ago, and it’s still overwhelming.

There’s too much to do, and not enough time: writing content, increasing web traffic, networking with other bloggers, SEO, participating in social media.

With all these tasks in mind, it’s hard to get things done. It seems that I enter a circle without getting actual results.

Oftentimes, my day looks something like this:

  1. I start by checking my Google Analytics account, which, for example, reveals that my web traffic from Quora is low.
  2. I log into Quora, take a look at my stats, and figure out that I have too few upvotes.
  3. Hence, I start to google „how to get upvotes on Quora“.
  4. While I’m browsing for a solution, I suddenly remember: „Heck, I didn’t write at all today“.
  5. Immediately, I jump to action and start to write a new blog post.

At this moment in time, however, my creative energy is pretty much gone. It feels as if I didn’t get anything done at all.

I wasn’t satisfied. I needed a simple yet powerful concept that helps me to get things done without too much planning.

Eventually, I came up with a concept called smart rules.

Why Birds Are Smarter Than Humans

As a kid, almost every one of us had to follow rules. Your parents and teachers told you things like:

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

Rules are powerful. They raise children, hold societies together, and keep religions alive, yet they’re underrated.

Even animals manage their lives with the help of simple rules. Scientists call this phenomenon swarm intelligence or emergence.

You can experience emergence every autumn in the skies all around the world. It is when flocks of birds come together to start off their bird migration. Every single bird complies with a small set of simple rules. But as a whole, the birds form an intelligent and resilient organism. The same is the case for ant colonies and fish swarms.

The power of rules seemed fascinating to me. So maybe they could help me to manage my „10-visitors-a-day”-blog?

My Experiment

I 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-Tasking: I’m constantly switching between marketing activities and content creation, which is exhausting and unproductive.

Smart Rule 1: On weekdays, I focus on marketing and brainstorming content ideas. On the weekend, I write one blog post. Writing needs creative energy and a quiet environment. These conditions are given on the weekend. In contrast, I find it easier to spread out my marketing tasks over my hectic working week.

Problem 2 — Information Overload: I consume far too much information, and I know it’s harmful. When I dive into a new topic like „quora marketing“, I want to know everything about it— even before I put my knowledge into practice. As a result, I suffer from information paralysis and procrastination.

Smart Rule 2: I’m only looking for new information when I experience an actual problem (i.e. „not enough upvotes on Quora”). If that’s the case, I read a maximum of three helpful web resources. Then, I put this knowledge immediately into practice for at least one week. If I still don’t get better results, I repeat that process.

Problem 3 — Work-Life-Balance: I’m working on my blog almost every single day. This increases the chance of losing my passion and burning out.

Smart Rule 3: I’m working on my blog only 5 days a week. On the other 2 days, I relax or work on other fun projects.

My Surprising Results

Although my rules seemed trivial, I stuck to them for several weeks.

Now, I don’t want to promise too much, but I experienced the following improvements:

  • Increased Productivity: By following these rules, I got more things done. I have finished blog posts and started to implement my marketing strategy more thoroughly. I knew exactly what needs to be done, and when to do it.
  • Motivation: I felt less overwhelmed and made better decisions, which made me more energized and motivated.
  • Better Vision: Once I sorted out the daily „blogging stuff” (writing and marketing), I had more brain capacity left to focus on my long-term strategy.

How come three simple rules made such a difference?

The Science Behind Smart Rules

In mathematical terms, rules reduce complexity. This fact can be illustrated with a simple example.

Imagine you have to complete 4 different tasks („A“, „B“, „C“ and „D“), but their execution order doesn’t matter.

Well, there are 24 possibilities to arrange 4 different tasks:

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

Smart Rules

But now, let’s add two simple rules:

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

How many possibilities are left?

Surprisingly, only 2 possibilities are possible: ABCD and BCAD.

Two simple rules reduced the complexity by more than 90%.

It’s Your Turn

Smart rules are especially suited for hectic and complex environments. In such an environment, there’s no perfect and straightforward solution for completing tasks. Rather, you need to manage countless activities at once.

Daily working life is a great place example; you have to analyze problems, create solutions, talk to customers and colleagues, respond to email, and keep yourself up-to-date. There’s no straightforward solution to achieve all of this. It’s more about going with the flow.

Once you have identified an application area for smart rules, you need to define concrete problems. Here are 3 challenges of (my) daily working life:

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

After stating the problem, it’s time to come up with a smart rule to counter it. From my own experience, a smart rule must have three characteristics:

1. Easy

Smart rules shouldn’t make you think too much. If your rule isn’t easy, you won’t stick to it. They should be easy to formulate and catchy.

2. Embeddable

If your smart rule deviates too much from your typical behavior, you won’t stick to it. A smart rule has to fit into your environment. For example, don’t create sophisticated rules for your morning routine if you are no morning person.

3. Smart

If you analyze my own smart rules, you’ll notice that they hack my own weaknesses. I achieve this by using proven knowledge from psychology and productivity. For example, I created my first blog rule because multi-tasking is proven to be ineffective.

If you find it difficult to come up with smart rules, feel free to use my templates. So far, I identified 3 of them:

Template 1) Sequential Rule

  • 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.

Template 2) Temporal Rule

  • I check my emails twice a day.
  • I work on my blog 5 days a week.

Template 3) Conditional Rule

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

Smart rules will improve your life. You’ll have fewer decisions to make, less information overload, and a better time-management.

Additionally, you’ll have more brainpower left to focus on the important stuff in your life — the creative aspects of your job, promising side projects, or long-forgotten hobbies.