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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.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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