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15 Tips for Surviving a Task Explosion

15 Tips for Surviving a Task Explosion

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    A task explosion happens when you are suddenly faced with more tasks than you are used to. I’ve faced many times where you suddenly need to handle twice as much work, with twice the pressure. Stress levels rise, and you might feel about ready to snap.

    I’ve prepared a survival list of things to do when you get caught in the middle of a task explosion. Hopefully these tips can help you get a bit more done, and keep you from pulling the hair out of your head.

    1. Stop and Think – When the explosion hits, you are probably still reeling from the impact, unsure what to do. Working randomly is about the worst plan to use, since you may accomplish less critical tasks when big problems lie in the background.
    2. Know What You’re Prepared to Leave Behind – After you’ve paused yourself, it is time to assess your priorities. Ask yourself what you’ll need to give up if the time starts ticking down. Anything that isn’t crucial needs to be pushed back.
    3. Begin Immediately – As soon as you’ve decided what is most important, get working. Some people react to a task explosion by procrastinating or working on something easy. If that is your case, plan your next step and take action right away.
    4. Shuffle Work – A sudden doubling of your workload doesn’t give you much time to adapt. When this happens to me, I make sure I shuffle my work in 60-90 minute chunks so I don’t get overtired. Shuffling means placing tasks that use different skills after each other. Do reading tasks for sixty minutes then switch to one that involves writing or communicating. This will allow you to work longer and harder.
    5. Are You Heading for a Nuclear Winter? – Is this task explosion temporary or is it going to be a permanent adjustment. If you think that this explosion might have a long-term impact, it’s a good idea to assess your life in general. What commitments need to be dropped in order for you to survive?
    6. Useful Laziness – Taking breaks is a good idea if your explosion will last weeks or months. The key is to make sure that your rest counts. How often do you plan to relax but end up wasting your energy on something trivial? Decide what really rejuvenates you and spend your short breaks doing that.
    7. Morning Boost – If you know you have a few days with mountains of work ahead, sleep a bit earlier and wake up earlier. When you start your morning early, you are more likely to begin with full force. That momentum will carry you throughout the day so by noon you’ve already got your most important tasks done.
    8. Eat Light – Digestion eats up a huge amount of energy (no pun intended). A good way to keep your energy levels high is to eat water-rich vegetables and low fat foods. Stuffing your face with a burger and fries is only going to slow you down.
    9. List Everything – A mile is only a bunch of feet strung together. If you list everything that needs to be done, you will feel more confident that you can handle it. The listing process helps take the vague, amorphous blob of work and turns it into bite-sized pieces.
    10. Unplug – If the task-explosion injures you, distractions will finish you off. Unplug the phone, internet or computer if you don’t need them that moment. The more noise you have to fight through the harder it will be to focus. Even if the silence is uncomfortable for the first few minutes, you can speed up to a quick flow.
    11. Breakdown Delegation – If you’re working with a team, cut the work into large chunks and quickly discuss what needs to be done in each. Interpersonal communication should only happen when strictly necessary. Get everyone to stand up if you need to hold a meeting as that should pick up the pace.
    12. Reward Later, Work Now – Find something that can motivate you for the next few hours. Agree to give yourself a reward when you finish your work. The reward doesn’t need to be huge, but even a twenty minute break to do something enjoyable can do the trick. Don’t give yourself the reward first with the expectation to work afterwards! You’ve got your psychology backwards there as it will be just as hard to quit procrastinating after you’ve taken a break.
    13. Find Shortcuts – Almost any activity has shortcuts if you look at it broadly enough. Find ways you can cut corners and get things done faster to keep up with demand. Shortcuts might not be advisable when you’ve got time to focus on quality, but if time is against you, do what you need to do.
    14. Weigh Consequences – Sometimes you need to take a little pain to avoid a lot of pain. Look at the consequences for not following through on different commitments. If you feel you can’t handle every commitment, find the ones that will give the least pain and break them. It might be the only way to avoid a huge failure because you didn’t manage your time.
    15. Exercise – Many people, when they face a task explosion cut exercise first. This might be fine if your explosion lasts only a day or two. But if your workload overload spans weeks and months, this will only hurt you. Exercise helps you sustain high energy levels for working, even if you can only do a 30 minute power workout.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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