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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)

    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 June 19, 2019

    10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

    10 Best Ted Talks About Procrastination That Will Ignite Your Motivation

    There are two types of people in this world; one who wants to complete their work as early as possible and one who wants to delay it as much they can. The first category of this depicts ‘precrastinators’ and the latter one are termed as ‘procrastinators’.

    Much has been researched and published about procrastination; most of the studies terming it as detrimental to one’s health and adding to stress levels. Though, there are ‘procrastinating apologists’ as you would call them who proclaim there are a few benefits of it as well. But scientists have argued that the detriments of procrastination far outweigh the short-term benefits of it.

    Everybody procrastinates, but not everybody is a procrastinator. Procrastination is habitual, not situational.

    For an employee, it means piling up work until the end hours of their shift and then completing it in a hurry. For a student, it means not studying for an exam that is due the next week and cramming up the whole book one night before.

    If you fall into this category, do not worry, there have also been articles published and speeches given by successful leaders on how procrastinators aren’t so bad after all.

    Here are 10 of the best Ted Talks about procrastination that will help you regain motivation:

    1. Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, by Tim Urban

    Tim Urban gives his funny uptake on procrastination and dives deep into how a procrastinator’s mind functions. He goes ahead and tells the audience about how ‘precrastinators’ have a rational decision-maker in their mind but in a procrastinator’s mind, there are two other entities existing — the ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster’

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    From the video, you will learn how to stay aware of the ‘instant gratification monkey’ whenever you have to complete a task.

    2. The Surprising Habits Of Original Thinkers, by Adam Grant

    In this video, Adam Grant builds on the concepts of ‘instant gratification monkey’ and ‘the panic monster,’ and marks a balance between ‘precrastinators’ and procrastinators giving existence to a productive and creative persona.

    He talks about how a lot of great personalities in the course of history were procrastinators giving an example of Martin Luther King Jr. delaying the writing of his speech. ‘I have a dream’ was not in the script but was an original phrase by the leader; he opened himself to every possible avenue by not going with the script.

    You can learn about how one has to be different and better rather than be the first-mover, going deep into the correlation between original thinkers and procrastinators.

    3. An End To Procrastination, by Archana Murthy

    According to a survey,[1] 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators. Study after study shows chronic procrastination isn’t just laziness and poor time-management, but is actually a byproduct of negative emotions such as guilt, anxiety, depression and low self-worth — which is different from the contrary belief.

    Archana Murthy gives us an insight into the procrastinator’s plight and provides ways to help the procrastinator in you.

    For a fellow procrastinator, you should check out her good advice on how to end it.

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    4. Why We Procrastinate, by Vik Nithy

    Vik Nithy has already found 23 companies before coming to give his speech on procrastination. He puts forward the structure of our brain, showing the prefrontal cortex as the intelligent one telling us to complete the assignment due next day.

    Procrastinators are threatened by complex work which gives them anxiety and that is where Amygdala comes in telling us to find pleasure in other activities.

    Going ahead, you’ll from him how to overcome procrastination i.e. planning for goals, time, resources, process, distractions, and for failure.

    5. Trust The Procrastinator, by Valerie Brown

    Frankly, this is one of the best speeches on procrastination given on the TedTalks platform. Valerie Brown tells us that we live in a society where every body wants everything right now and procrastinators aren’t in those ‘right-now’ people.

    She gives us an example of great procrastinators like Leonardo Da Vinci, who regarded himself as a failure at one point of time and took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa. She gives us another perspective on procrastinators that it isn’t necessarily bad for one’s career or health.

    6. Procrastination Is The Key To Problem Solving, by Andrea Jackson

    Andrea Jackson gives us her two categories of procrastinators: the accidental procrastinators and the deliberate procrastinators. She puts Leonardo Da Vinci in the former category and Thomas Edison in the latter one.

    There is a part where she labels procrastinators as unlocking a supersonic jigsaw puzzle in their head when they procrastinate; it means bringing thousands of ideas in one’s head when one procrastinates and keeps thinking about it. She calls Salvador Dali and Aristotle as deliberate procrastinators where they used to delay work in order to achieve a more creative result.

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    In this video, you’ll learn a new perspective about procrastinators.

    7. The Vaccination For Procrastination, by Bronwyn Clee

    Bronwyn Clee takes us in the psychology of a procrastinator, telling us that fear stops us taking up new work.

    She shares how she taught herself to be a decision-maker and not to fear if she will be able to take an action or not. From this video, you will learn how to bring the change in yourself and end procrastination.

    8. I’m Not Lazy, I’m Procrastinating, by Victoria Gonzalez

    Coming from a millennial, this is more relatable to the younger generation.

    Victoria Gonzalez tells us that procrastination has nothing do with time-management skills. In fact, a procrastinator puts off work but with an intention to complete it; lazy people are the opposite of that who don’t even try.

    9. Change Anything! Use Skillpower Over Willpower, by AI Wizler

    Al Wizler, cofounder of VitalSmarts, gives us an example of her mother’s smoking habits which she wanted to quit but she just couldn’t even after trying for years. Eventually, she died of cancer.

    He reminds us to the need to take control of the forces that influence our decisions, rather than letting them take control of ourselves.

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    In this video, you’ll learn the importance of self-reflection, identifying your behaviours, and getting to work on it.

    10. How To Motivate Yourself To Change Your Behaviour, by Tali Sharot

    Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist explains how we behave when put through alternating situations.

    She has found that people get to work when they are rewarded for an action immediately. Procrastinators can get themselves to work and reward themselves for it, which will lead to a change in their behaviour if they actually start that process of working sooner and completing it.

    In this video, you’ll learn about the role of celebrating small wins and tracking your progress when you’re trying to reach your goals.

    The Bottom Line

    Procrastinators can find all kinds of advices on TedTalks.

    A few of them, defending the idea and proclaiming that it actually allows for a more creative process and one that people shouldn’t feel so guilty about. Some of them, giving suggestions on how to put an end to it and making you a faster worker.

    It all depends on how you want to perceive it and if you want to, you can find the cure for this ailment.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Han Chau via unsplash.com

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