We all experience it. That overwhelmed feeling that comes over us as work stacks up, seemingly on end. We push ourselves to get through the pile, only to find that another one has sprouted up behind it. Sometimes the workload can seem so heavy that it can be intimidating to get started.
The good news is that when you take a deep breath, step back, and examine your workload; you can take some simple steps to get out from under it and get back to crushing it.
The following are ten tips that have been cultivated by successful leaders over the years. They represent some of the best ideas and approaches to manage distractions, prioritize properly, and feel confident as you tackle the never-ending increase of to-dos.
1. Know the strategy and set goals accordingly
What are the goals of the business, and what strategy is being deployed to accomplish them? Starting with an understanding of the strategy, your boss’ expectations and your role within them can help you set goals accordingly. Set your daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals and tactics so that your actions work to achieve those targets. Reflect on what will bring the greatest value to your team and your organization and diligently protect the time, attention, and resources needed to accomplish them. If something isn’t aligning to the strategy, question its importance and urgency and determine if it should be delegated or discarded altogether.
2. Schedule your time based on your priorities
Knowing the strategy and setting goals around that will clarify your highest priorities. Set aside 30-50% of your time to work on tasks and activities that will help you achieve the goals. It’s easy to get distracted by fires or pulled into other people’s projects. When you block out time to meet your goals first, rather than helping everyone else, you take back your ownership of your time – an action that will help prevent any feelings of overwhelm in the first place. Consider strategies such as calendar blocking, closed-door, and shutting down email.
3. Be selective as to what meetings you attend
Not every meeting is a good fit for your time. Question every meeting that comes your way by asking how critical it is for you to attend and what is your role. Perhaps ask someone else attend on your behalf. Use a best, better, and good approach by dividing your work and meeting times into these three categories and focusing at least 40-60% of your time on the 2-3 strategic priorities (the best), and dividing the rest of your time between the improvement efforts and new ideas (the better) and the daily maintenance follow up activities (the good).
4. Let things drop off your to-do list
It’s okay to let some things go! If something has been on your to-do list for a long time, and you can’t seem to find time to get around to it, it’s likely not critical. Drop that task from your to-do list and move on. You can record the idea someplace if it is something you eventually want to do, but avoid having it on your daily, weekly, or monthly to-do list as it will fester there.
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5. Manage your inbox
Use the two-minute rule to manage your inbox. If it takes you two minutes or less, deal with it right now. Your action may be responding to the message, filing it into a folder, or sharing it with another colleague. The goal is to move as many things as you can out of your inbox during your scheduled email time. You can prevent an email backlog and mounting pressure on your to-do list when you follow this process. Consider applying this same rule to emails you send. Can the receiver satisfy your request in two minutes?
6. Take Breaks
We cannot perform at our best when we are not taking care of our physical needs. It may seem counterintuitive when you are knee-deep in work, but getting up to move, eat, or drink water can be just the thing you need to give you the energy to surge ahead. Likewise, taking the time to breathe and reflect provides insight into what you are doing and will provide you with an opportunity to have a eureka moment. An important note on taking a break – manage your sleep. It’s easy to get into a cycle of overwhelm when we are not getting the rest we need. Sometimes having an early night is all we need to tackle the next day.
7. Ask Questions Before Saying Yes
Get the details of a project or a request before agreeing to it. Knowing what the expected deadlines are in advance can help you set expectations, schedule your time, or let others know that you will not be able to meet a deadline. Having all of the necessary details will give you space to dive into the project without waiting for more information, making it easier for you to accomplish the work in the time you have carved out for it. If you have to say no, perhaps you have a referral name that may jump at the opportunity.
8. Align How You Spend Your Time With What You Value
As you come home each day and look in the mirror, are you proud of what you are accomplishing each day? Does your work each day align with what you consider to be important? Aligning your values with the needs of your job, team, and organization creates a powerful filter to prioritize your workload and manage your stress. This perspective enables you to consider your professional aspirations, your desired work-life integration, and what activities energize you as you balance your day-to-day work. Aligning your work and life goals around what you value the most, can help clarify what to pay attention to and what to let go, helping you be more productive on what matters most to you, your family, and your organization.
9. Assign Value of Importance and Effort to Tasks
Rank your tasks in order of importance and effort and then determine what you must do now, what you can or should delegate, what you can delay, and what you can drop. Organizing your tasks in this manner provides you with insight into your to-do list. You can anticipate how much time things will take based on the effort required, and then focus on those tasks that have the highest value or those requiring your expertise.
10. Manage Interruptions
Block out your time and protect it. For every interruption of your work, it takes approximately 15 minutes to get back into the “zone” and do your best work. Let your team know when you need to focus and schedule times that you can be interrupted. Many find it best to create an untouchable period of the day, while others schedule smaller chunks of time into their calendar that cannot be interrupted.
Getting snowed-under at work is a familiar situation for most of us. Use these ten tips to structure and prioritize your work while minimizing unnecessary stress or feelings of burnout. You’ll not only be more effective and productive utilizing these strategies, but more fulfilled in your role and accomplishments.