What to Do When You Have Too Much to Do

Perhaps you have reached the point in the early afternoon when it dawns on you that you have overreached yet one more time. You won’t be able to get everything done, not in the time you have. When this happens, the first thing to do is accept that you cannot do everything that is on your plate. You must now enter triage mode where you have to make hard choices. These choices involve trade-offs. If you make those trade-offs consciously you just might get through the afternoon with some successes. But too often we go into high gear, maybe we get something done, but it could be the wrong thing, or done in the wrong way. What to do?

First, stop, really stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Drink some water slowly. Don’t think about your action items. You really can stop for two minutes.

Then ask a few triage questions:

  1. What commitments have I made? Who is depending on me, for what? What is due to whom? What is most urgent?
  2. What’s the minimum I can do to fulfill your commitment. Can I reduce the level of perfection? Renegotiate the scope? Delegate any part of the work? Reduce the length of a phone call or meeting?
  3. Are there any bottleneck tasks? Those are the ones where I can’t move forward until I do them first. For example, I can’t move forward on a workshop design until I determine the three main points ,and I can’t write the outline for a chapter I am working on until I research certain content.
  4. Is there anything that I have promised to myself that I haven’t gotten to for three days (or a week)?
  5. Have I figured out what is for dinner? Can I thaw something, chop the onions, or call for take-out?

Next – I make a short clear list of what I want to focus on now. I dentify the amount of time each task will take. Then, I do them in the order that appeals to me, what do I have the energy for? Is it the hard tasks first, or easy ones first. But get some momentum.

If you go off course, begin by noticing that you have done so. For example, I sit down to address myself to my clear top priority, writing this post, and I “just” check my email. By an amazing sleight of mind, a whole new set of things becomes even more important. All of a sudden I am traveling to distant Internet links, and there, I become absorbed in a riveting question, should I attend that conference in San Francisco? Something in my mind snaps me back to the reality of my pressing deadline, but I have lost precious minutes examining questions about a conference I had never heard of minutes before. Is that a familiar story?

Once you’ve noticed that you’re off course, go back to the short to do list that you have created with patience and kindness.. And set your timer for ten-minute intervals as you address your tasks with compassion and focus.

All of us take on too much, get overwhelmed and lose track of what’s important. The next time this happens to you, ask yourself a few helpful questions, set a new course and follow it with patience and conviction..

First, stop, really stop. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Drink some water slowly. Don’t think about your action items. You really can stop for two minutes.

Then ask a few triage questions:

  1. What commitments have I made? Who is depending on me, for what? What is due to whom? What is most urgent?
  2. What’s the minimum I can do to fulfill your commitment. Can I reduce the level of perfection? Renegotiate the scope? Delegate any part of the work? Reduce the length of a phone call or meeting?
  3. Are there any bottleneck tasks? Those are the ones where I can’t move forward until I do them first. For example, I can’t move forward on a workshop design until I determine the three main points ,and I can’t write the outline for a chapter I am working on until I research certain content.
  4. Is there anything that I have promised to myself that I haven’t gotten to for three days (or a week)?
  5. Have I figured out what is for dinner? Can I thaw something, chop the onions, or call for take-out?

Next – I make a short clear list of what I want to focus on now. I dentify the amount of time each task will take. Then, I do them in the order that appeals to me, what do I have the energy for? Is it the hard tasks first, or easy ones first. But get some momentum.

If you go off course, begin by noticing that you have done so. For example, I sit down to address myself to my clear top priority, writing this post, and I “just” check my email. By an amazing sleight of mind, a whole new set of things becomes even more important. All of a sudden I am traveling to distant Internet links, and there, I become absorbed in a riveting question, should I attend that conference in San Francisco? Something in my mind snaps me back to the reality of my pressing deadline, but I have lost precious minutes examining questions about a conference I had never heard of minutes before. Is that a familiar story?

Once you’ve noticed that you’re off course, go back to the short to do list that you have created with patience and kindness.. And set your timer for ten-minute intervals as you address your tasks with compassion and focus.

All of us take on too much, get overwhelmed and lose track of what’s important. The next time this happens to you, ask yourself a few helpful questions, set a new course and follow it with patience and conviction..