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The 3 Step Plan to Fall Behind in Style

The 3 Step Plan to Fall Behind in Style
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    No matter how many self-help and productivity books you read and implement it is inevitable that you will eventually fall behind in your work and life. Falling behind can be a terrible experience; you can lose precious time catching up, stress yourself out, and the worst case being losing your job or money.

    But, you don’t have to be a horrible, unproductive loser when you fall behind in work and life. Follow these three steps to fall behind in style.

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    1. Stick to your system

    First off, falling behind won’t work if you don’t have a productivity system in place. It doesn’t really matter what system you follow, just make sure that you have some sort of framework to fall back on.

    The reason that you need your system when you fall behind is that you need a trusted place to put all of the incoming stuff that you can’t currently handle. Having a place to store this information while you get out of your little (or big) rut is important to keeping yourself somewhat on track. While you work through you projects and tasks backlog, keep all of the incoming information on a someday/maybe list and reevaluate it when you are out of your rut.

    Try very hard not to add more work to your current projects and tasks, unless you absolutely don’t have a choice. If you do have to add more work, then you may need to cut something you are currently working on (more on that in step three).

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    2. Get some backup

    When your work life is falling through the cracks it is almost impossible to get back on track alone. There is nothing better than having someone (or a team of people) to fall back on. I’m not saying that you want to make these people your scapegoats or give them all the work while you sit around and drink your Starbucks. I’m saying that you have to communicate with them and possibly offload work to them.

    Make sure that others that you work with know that you are behind and that you are concentrating on a few things to get back on track. If you are a pretty diligent worker to begin with, your coworkers will understand and most likely will give you a hand, that is, if they aren’t completely backlogged themselves.

    If you have some teammates at work that are really good at something you have to do, maybe you can delegate them some of your work so you can concentrate on the others things that you are better and faster at.

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    3. Revaluate your commitments and cut the fat

    One of the biggest reasons we fall behind in work and life is because we have committed to too many projects and cool ideas. Our minds are filled with glorious plans, ways to make money, killer startups, and projects that “need to be done” or are “no-brainers”.

    The reality of the matter is that we can only commit to so much in our lives. If we overcommit, we not only risk falling behind in our work, we risk completed projects poorly or not at all. This can be more detrimental than the initial stress from falling behind.

    What you can do is fall back on your system (you do have one of those, right?) and look at all of the projects you have committed to. Take the five most important projects and make them the only active ones you have. These will most likely be projects that are overdue or are on the brink of failure. Concentrate on these five projects and only work on them until they are completed. Then you can start to trickle in other “less important” projects.

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    You may find by reevaluating your projects that some of them are not worth your time right now or not worth any time ever. Get rid of them as you see fit. There is no better way to get ahead in work by giving yourself less unimportant work.

    One task at a time

    While getting destroyed by your work projects can be stressful and feel like the world around you is caving in, you don’t have to be a super productivity nerd to get back on track; just someone who is realistic with themselves and can set realistic expectations on their own work. All you have to do is follow these three steps to make falling behind in work and life look easy.

    (Photo credit: Office worker with a sign asking for help via Shutterstock)

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    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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