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How to Get Out of a Work Backlog

How to Get Out of a Work Backlog

    You have goals and since you are reading Lifehack you may probably have a lot of them you want to accomplish. Goals lead to projects and projects lead to a sea of tasks. The problem with this is that those sea of tasks may never dry up and you could find yourself drowning in them.

    Here is how you can get your head above a backlog of work.

    Create Your Focus

    The worst part about taking on work is that you say ‘yes’ to a lot more than you are actually capable of doing.

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    The best way to get out of a backlog of work is to not do the work. I’m not trying to be cynical (yes I am), but if you have committed to doing something that you shouldn’t have committed to, today is the day to stop doing it and find your focus. Don’t wait and think that having a million “look into” type of projects is okay.

    Find the things that don’t fit and cut them.

    Turn off life as much as possible

    After you have found some focus it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of identifying and starting to process the piles of work in front of you. When you do this, it’s much better to unplug from everything that you can to keep your attention.

    Turn the cell phone off, silence notifications, and try to find a few hours of time that you can devote to merely identifying what you need to do. Most people don’t realize it, but sometimes the only reason they are bogged down by work is because they don’t know what the work is that they have to do. This is the time to recognize it.

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    Stick to the two minute rule

    While you are going through your email and other piled up, potential work, if you see something that you think will only take two minutes to do then do it immediately. This is probably one of my favorite GTD rules to forget, but it definitely works.

    It’s sometimes hard to know how long something will take, so use a digital timer or stopwatch to time yourself. You can blow through a lot of work in these short little two minute bursts plus you will be moving projects along that you thought were dead in the water.

    Know when to say no

    As you are identifying your work make sure that you are still focusing on what you ought to be doing. If an email crosses your inbox that is some potential, crazy, new project, make sure that you have the time and bandwidth to accept it. If not, say no for the time being and possibly throw it on a someday/maybe list Better yet, get rid of it completely if it doesn’t match your focus.

    It’s not a good idea to create more work for yourself when you are trying to get out of a backlog.

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    Do

    The next part is just doing your work. Once you have identified what needs done and what doesn’t need done, it’s time to find the right time and context to get those things done. This may take much longer than the whole identifying process above, but at least you have a workable set of tasks that can slowly and surely get you out of your backlog.

    Some people like making time blocks to get things done while other prefer a more relaxed approach. If you have a serious amount of work to get through, you may want to consider doing the former and scheduling yourself some time blocks to get through the work, if only it is until you are caught up.

    Re-Focus

    As you get closer and closer to the end of your work backlog and you start to see the light of day again, make sure that you stop for a moment and refocus. The only way that you got yourself in a backlog in the first place was that you were unfocused when accepting unwanted or unneeded work or that you were ignoring things altogether. Make sure that you are mindful of the work that you have accomplished and the work that you want to move towards next.

    This will help to keep yourself away from backlogs in the first place.

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    Conclusion

    Having a backlog of work doesn’t mean you are unproductive, necessarily. What it means is that you lack a sense of focus and possibly haven’t take the time to identify what you need to do to get things back on track.

    Taking the time to identify your work and then making a conscious effort to move forward with what you should be focused on is the best way to make it out of the dreaded work backlog. And hey, since you are going into Saturday (at least here in the States), now is as good time as ever to out of your rut.

    (Photo credit: Yellow coffee mug atop pile via Shutterstock)

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

    How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

    Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

    However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

    Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

    Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

    Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

    In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

    What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

    To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

    The Biology

    Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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    Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

    The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

    A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

    Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

    So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

    Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

    Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

    Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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    Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

    The Psychology

    Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

    Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

    Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

    Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

    What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

    Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

    Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

    1. Identify Your Habits

    As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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    2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

    Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

    It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

    3. Apply Logic

    You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

    Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

    4. Choose an Alternative

    As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

    Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

    5. Remove Triggers

    Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

    Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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    6. Visualize Change

    Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

    For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

    7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

    Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

    Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

    Final Thoughts

    Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

    Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

    More About Changing Habits

    Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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