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How to Get Out of a Work Backlog

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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 October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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