Your inbox is puking—from both ends. There’s a line at your door. The damn phone will NOT. Stop. Ringing. Billy's Blackberry has stopped fetching email again. For Christ's sake, Suzy's activated sticky keys on her PC for the second time today. Outlook: "you have had a meeting five minutes ago. Snooze?"

And for the love of all that’s productive and holy, that son of b. . . back. He's back again to ask another question.

Coffee spills. Insert hair in fists. The day melts into numbing white noise with only the riff of your stress-quickened heartbeat pulsing in the background.

Days like this

There are just some days when even the most well-stocked project management battleship can’t outmaneuver the little attention-attacking gunboats that sneak up to it. During those times, you have to get off your titan system momentarily and fight more hand-to-hand, more primitively.

The good news is that you’ve probably already got a weapon close at hand whose biggest asset is that it simply can’t get too heavy to lift.

Take out a little yellow sticky note and write down no more than three things that you want to finish before the end of the day. I don’t care what time of day it is.

Make that little, square, yellow piece of real estate your day and tune out everything else. Forget everything else. Even that heartbeat.

You’ve heard the expression “kill them with kindness.” I believe complexity can be killed with simplicity, and I’ve seen it happen.1

The more complicated things get, the simpler you should make your to-do list. Whether it’s a sticky note, text file, or little mind map branch growing off on its own, it helps to temporarily relocate to more sensible ground when attention crises strike.

Things will calm back down, and when they do, you can right your battleship and resume pummeling the shores of your key projects.

Just stop, simplify, focus, and. . . do. Repeat as needed.

  1. Seen it happen in lots of contexts, from meetings that ran off on wild, sanity-sucking tangents to giant financial models that got too big for their britches. Simplicity is almost always your friend, and few people will ever admonish you for explaining something too simply or making a situation too simple.