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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)