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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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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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