Probably each of us faced that situation at least a few times. We either committed to do more work than we are actually able to deal with or someone just threw that stuff at our heads. Either way we suddenly see there is no such way which would make us delivering everything on time. Of course we can sit and cry, but I guess that isn’t an approach which would make us a great leaders.
Which techniques can help you to deal with overwhelming number of tasks then?
Define last responsible moment
We often have tasks which are time-constrained, like delivering a speech at AgileEE. I know when I have the presentation (in case I forgot it’s in the program) and I know how much time I need to prepare it (like two weeks). This means I can mark the last responsible moment I have to start working on a task. It also makes it easier to plan other activities I might have as I know which evening I have filled with rehearsals.
Delay tasks which can wait
There are some tasks which can wait. You may convince yourself you’d be able to complete them in the meantime but in vast majority of cases you’re fooling yourself. You won’t. So you better delay them for some time and don’t waste any minute on them while you’re overloaded.
Cut distracters out
If you noticed my almost non-existing activity on Twitter and significantly reduced frequency of posting on the blog this is exactly how I implement the advice. By the way, regular blogging is pretty high on my priority list, so if I’m slacking with that it means time is really hectic for me.
Don’t try to deal with too many things at once. Actually try to focus on one and only one. Choose whatever the most important thing at the moment is and deal with it. Until then, forget about a long list of issues which are waiting for your action. Even if you make them wait you are at least finishing something instead of going to constant context switching hell.
This is a great moment to learn delegation if you still have troubles with that. If you can choose between obvious failure, since you aren’t able to spend ten seconds on solving the problem, and some chances of success, when someone else is dealing with the problem, the choice is pretty obvious. You might want to quickly sketch a rescue plan for worst case scenario and let others do their best. Believe me, they would surprise you.
Ideally reject new tasks before you are overcommitted. I’m not a good role model here though. But then, when you already see how you have overpromised yet again, don’t make it even worse and agree you’d help with yet another task. Yes, it means you need to learn how to let opportunities go. A pretty difficult thing to learn, but definitely worth the effort. That is, unless you want to be considered as unreliable person.
Get into the flow
You’ve probably heard about being in the flow. When your focus is clear and you have no distracters and context switches. You’ve read about that above. However there is also a bit different kind of flow. The flow you can be in for a couple of weeks. It is when you are facing overwhelming number of tasks and you are barely able to deal with them all but somehow day after day you juggle with all the most important issues and avoid a failure. Each of those days builds a motivation to keep running, to find some more energy to push a few things more. And somehow you seem to be completing much more than you would otherwise.
And what are your techniques to deal with overwhelming number of tasks?