I sometimes hear from people that they are overwhelmed by the amount of work in their life. They say “I have too much to do”, and “my workload is heavy”. This comes in a variety of different iterations, but one thing remains true: an overwhelming workload can be downright punishing. It’s no fun when you’re constantly behind, feeling like you always have more work than you can handle and there are rarely any insights or joys to be found. In this blog post I’d like to share with you some of my favorite “hacks” for reducing the overall workload, so that you can feel less overwhelmed and more productive in your daily work.
Here are 5 things that I’ve found to be helpful over time:
1. Reduce distractions. Just a few small changes in your routine can make big improvements in your focus and productivity. A good place to start is with eliminating all the little distractions that come from being on your computer, phone, etc… For example, you might unsubscribe from email lists that don’t really have meaning for you or only read emails at certain times of day. All this can help reduce the amount of time you spend distracted by email and social media. Another way to reduce distractions is to make your work area a sanctuary. Remove everything that isn’t directly related to your work. This will help reduce the amount of interruptions and distractions that you have in your day. One of my favorite hacks for this is using a password-protected journal in my home office, so that people can’t easily come by and bother me while I work. You might think this might be against office etiquette, but I really don’t care about etiquette with respect to doing my work in an actual workplace!
2. Break large tasks into smaller chunks. In order to be at our best, we have a very limited amount of mental energy available at any given time. We can only pay attention to a small number of things at any given time. And yet, we often try to deal with the whole world at the same time, or even if we’re doing routine work, we try to get it done as fast as possible. As such, tasks get left undone because they are too large to manage in one effort. If you can break down your larger tasks into smaller chunks that are more manageable for you, then you will actually be able to move on to the next thing instead of being stuck trying to finish the first thing.
3. Build routines into your day. This is an essential step for getting all the things that you need to do done. You can use pen and paper or a digital planner, but in any case, you should bring your list of tasks to the workday. Often, I will jot down my tasks for the next few days before I really dive into that workday. This not only gives me a place to look ahead, but also helps me focus on the tasks at hand in a very structured way, so that I don’t get overloaded by things that will take me away from them later on in the day.
4. Set deadlines for yourself. With a written to-do list, you can make sure to focus on the most important tasks and to actually get them done! Very often people will tell me that they’ve “got a lot of work to do”, but when you ask them what they’re doing with respect to that work, it turns out that they are mostly just thinking about it and not actually moving forward on any of their tasks. This is because they don’t have a real plan in place for getting things done. Instead, you should set deadlines for yourself, both in terms of what time you have free to work on tasks and also with respect to how long things take. This way, you’re not just trying to complete a part of the task in your head, but instead are actually writing down the steps that you need to execute and making a plan for how they will get done. This will help make things less overwhelming.
5. Stop switching tasks so much. I find that most people that tell me they have too much work to do are actually suffering from this problem: they work on one thing for a few minutes and then jump into another thing for a while before going back and forth between different tasks throughout the day. This is a distraction in and of itself, but it also tends to lead to the problem of “too much” work because you don’t really commit to any one area for very long. If I see someone going back and forth between different tasks, then I know that they are not really focusing on any one thing in particular. This is a great way to reduce stress over time, as well as the number of interruptions in your day. Furthermore, it’s not only inefficient, but it’s also a huge drain on your energy levels! So please don’t do this!
6. Try to get rest. This is one of the most important pieces that I have found to be very helpful for my productivity. When you have a lot of work to do and you’re focused on actually getting things done, it’s really easy to ignore how hard you are pushing yourself. Often, people will put all their focus on getting their tasks done and they’ll push themselves past the point where they can sustain focus and energy for any longer. However, if you don’t take breaks from time-to-time, then it’s very likely that you’ll reach a point where your body starts signaling that it just doesn’t have the strength or capacity for doing anything more.
7. Prioritize important tasks. When you really have a lot of work to do and you find yourself getting stressed about it, think about what the most important things are. You might have 100 things that need to get done, but realistically you can only work on a handful of them at any given time. It’s easy to get distracted by other things, but if you only focus on the most important ones, then you can complete them faster and then free up time in your schedule for the rest.
In conclusion, there really isn’t a simple “one-size-fits-all” solution for dealing with too much work to do. However, most people have the same sorts of problems and they can be addressed by focusing on getting the basics right. In particular, you should make sure that you have some structure in place for your day, that you don’t get distracted and that you always take breaks from time-to-time. By working on these three areas, I’ve been able to keep stress levels pretty low, as well as maintain high levels of focus and productivity in general.