Feeling overwhelmed with tasks? Try these 7 strategies
I find very few people who aren’t super busy in today’s work world. If not right now, then most of us have been there in the past. Too many tasks, and too little time to complete them. For better or worse, I have always had a knack for getting stuff done. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, nor am I particularly good at multi-tasking, but I have a reputation for getting things from point A to point B efficiently and on time without compromising the desired outcome. As a consultant, I juggle multiple clients and projects, each thinking their project is the most important one and their deadline is the most critical. Here are some of the strategies I use that you can use too.
1. Get and stay organized. When you are reviewing your email, develop a system to keep things organized, and stick to that system. As an example, I have 5 different work-related email addresses that I use for various clients and projects. For one client, I am managing 7 projects, so for that email address, I have 7 additional folders where I save important emails only for that project. In the subject line of every email I send, I put the project name and ask anyone sending me email for those projects do the same. That way if an email needs to be filed, it is easy to do. This system also makes it easier to find things in the future.
2. Touch emails only once. When new emails arrive, take any action they require at the time you read the email if possible. For instance, if someone asks me to send them a file, I send it then and there, and then delete the request. Or if you find yourself writing in your email a sentence that sounds like “let me check on that and get back to you”, stop. Just check on it and put the answer in the email. The rule should be to touch each email only once if it is at all possible. Read, act, delete, move on.
3. Slow down. It may sound counter-intuitive to tell someone who has too much to do to slow down, but it is important. When you complete a task, whether it is responding to an email or completing a spreadsheet, slow down and do it right the first time. I always read every email I write after I have composed it, but before hitting the send button. I try to read it from the perspective of the recipient and correct anything that might be confusing or misunderstood.
4. Delegate. I know that perhaps many of you reading this may be saying to yourself that you have no one to delegate to, but you need to broaden your definition. If someone asks you to do something that is important to them, my answer is usually something like “sure, but if you don’t hear back from me by Tuesday, please feel free to ask again”. This is like having a human tickler file for your tasks. Another example might be if your work area is not near your project area and you need to review something in the project area. Think about who you can call to look at that thing for you and ask for the favor. A short phone call or email could take the place of a long walk or car ride to the project and back.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And believe me there is much more small stuff than big stuff. Learn to recognize what is important and urgent and do those things. If it is not important, then it may not need to be done. If it is not urgent, then it may not need to be done right away. Keep a list of the important but not urgent tasks and review it each day. Many times, tasks that were not urgent yesterday, tend to become urgent tomorrow.
6. Group similar tasks. Chances are your job requires you to do certain tasks for separate clients or separate stakeholders over and over again. Consider grouping those things together and doing them all at once. Using myself as an example again, I need to update the status of my 7 projects (for the client I mentioned earlier) on a regular basis. Instead of working on one project for an hour, and then the next for an hour, etc. I group tasks like these updates together. I update each of the seven projects at the same time because the steps are the same for each and I can be very efficient in that task. The same could be said for developing spreadsheets, updating budgets, or feeding your dogs!
7. Relax. This one may also seem counter-intuitive, but downtime is very important for your health, well-being, and your ability to enter the next day recharged. If you work constantly, your work will suffer, and everything will become a chore and others will notice. Take time off to do whatever it is you enjoy doing outside of work.
There are entire books written on working smarter, not harder. Hopefully the tips above get you thinking of other ways you can do that in your own job.