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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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