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How to Get Out of a Work Backlog

How to Get Out of a Work Backlog
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    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)

    More by this author

    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 July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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