3 steps to reducing overwhelm

Systems & Operations

This is a guest blog post by Todd Kane, President of Evolved.

It seems like there’s never a shortage of things to do. How though, can you organize the endless stream of requests and to-dos? I have a few quick, actionable tactics to get you and your team feeling more in control of the work.

There are two essential elements to managing your workload:

  1. Task List
  2. Calendar

Your calendar and your task list need to work together. This is where I see most people fail. Either, they only use a task list, which becomes an unmanageable list of things you intended to do and continue to push forward. Or, people use only their calendar which is simply a stream of meetings with questionable value. (Yes, your meetings probably suck, we’ll get to that later.)

Task List
If you don’t have a task list, start one. Start simple, use a pen and paper, and scratch notes in it, including tasks. Focus less on the tool in the beginning, you first need to establish the habit. People often get derailed early on in this process by focusing on the “perfect” app. The truth is no app will do the work for you, so just stick to the basics for now.

Tasks lists are great for capturing information to make sure you don’t have to keep all that information in your head. Task lists are also a terrible place to get work done. This is a fundamental shift that need to make. Your calendar is where you get work done. It’s not just for meetings. It’s how you plan and control your time. Defend your calendar and fill it with your priorities. If you fail to fill your calendar with your priorities, it will fill with someone else’s.

Weekly Tactics to Organize Your Work

Step 1: Create a 30-60 minute recurring entry on your calendar to review your work.

During this time, review your task list and put priority items on your calendar. Schedule the time to work on what you need. It may not get done then, but it’s WAY more likely to happen if you have it scheduled. You’re busy, so it’s just not likely you will magically find extra time to work on things you need to.

Collect the scraps of paper or emails you have flagged for follow-up and add them to your list. Determine how they fit in relative priority to the rest of your tasks.

Step 2: Everyday spend 15 minutes reviewing your tasks.

If things are behind schedule, simply send a status update. It’s amazing how much grace you can buy from someone when you just simply keep them updated. Especially if something is not urgent.

Make sure the things you have scheduled today are in line with your current priorities.

Step 3: Create block time on your calendar for deep work.

Schedule blackout periods in your calendar to either create buffer space or have open pockets to focus on work that requires dedicated focus.

Buffer space can be really helpful to keep your calendar from getting overcommitted. For example, I block out lunchtime twice a week. How I use this time varies a lot. I use it to have lunch with my family, meet with a client, or just sit down to read a book.

If you have project work or writing that needs to get done, you should create a block of time in the week to structure that time. This is especially important for tasks that require undivided attention. Also, tasks that are important, but tedious can benefit from this level of discipline. Whether you’re writing a sales document, statements of work, or updating documentation. This stuff that is unlikely to be work you LOVE to do and therefore, without discipline, it may get swept aside if you don’t feel like doing it.

Try this combo of task list PLUS calendar for 3 weeks. Stick with it and let me know the results of your experiment.

Todd Kane is the President of Evolved Management Consulting. A boutique consulting firm focused on helping IT teams and service providers achieve new levels of operational excellence.

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