We all know what it feels like to be faced with an overwhelming pile of work and no ideas about where to start. Every time it happens, we end up pulling overtime and all-nighters to solve the problem, and we promise ourselves that we’ll never allow our workflows to get so out of control again.
Despite our best intentions, we often find ourselves right back where we started and lamenting the fact that we let ourselves down. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s a difficult one to escape – especially in high-pressure modern workplace environments where ‘everything is a priority.’ Learning how to effectively prioritize is an important skill to learn.
In our efforts to get everything done as quickly as possible, we often take the online slots approach to dealing with work. We grab the closest thing to us, get that done, and hope that it has a positive effect. This is the same way online slots players feel like placing bets. They never know if they’re going to be better or worse off after they place their next bet, but they live in hope. Unfortunately, that’s not going to cut it in the world of business. It’s OK to live in hope when you’re playing on high risk and high reward games like the world famous Starburst slot, and there’s nothing on the line other than your disposable income, but the world of business demands tangible results. The mistakes we can make when we’re too busy to focus on the details can be hugely hazardous for our businesses.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload lately, help is at hand. Solve the prioritization problem by following the tips below and learn to effectively prioritize, then you’ll soon be on your way to better, more productive working days.
Accept that interruptions will happen
There is no way to avoid interruptions over the course of an average working day. You can tell people you’re too busy to deal with them as many times as you like, but they’re still going to happen. The phone will ring. An important-but-unexpected email will arrive. Someone will need to speak to you. The fire alarm might even go off. Interruptions are inevitable. If your schedule for the day doesn’t take interruptions into account, you’re doomed to failure before you even begin.
Set aside a full hour at some point during your working day for interruptions. So long as the total time you spend dealing with interruptions doesn’t exceed that hour, you’ll still be able to finish everything you wanted to achieve before your working day is out, and you’ll be able to leave on time.
Turn email notifications off
We’re so accustomed to instantly reacting to notifications when they pop up on our computers and phones that this is a hard habit to unlearn, but we have to do it. Your phone and your email inbox can’t both be priorities. If your phone rings, someone probably needs to speak to you right now. That’s not true of an email.
Turn your notifications off. Close Outlook altogether if that’s an option for you. Set aside a couple of times each day to read and respond to emails, and then ignore them for the rest of the time. If something is desperately urgent and someone hasn’t had a response to an email they’ve sent to you, they’ll phone you. If they’re not trying to call you, it probably isn’t urgent. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked by electronic communications is an integral part to learning to effectively prioritize.
Remember the 80/20 rule
No matter how much noise anyone is making about any work they might be expecting you to complete, always adhere to the 80/20 principle. It’s a very simple one to follow. Eighty percent of the value of your work comes from twenty percent of the tasks that you perform. To flip that equation the other way round, you’re only getting 20% value from 80% of the work that you do. You need to identify where that value comes from and treat that as the absolute priority. No matter how late, large, or important in other ways your other tasks might be, they should never be dealt with ahead of the 20% of tasks that bring value to your business. Only when this high-priority work is dealt with should you even think about tackling other tasks. If it takes all day, it takes all day. Your business will fail if that top-tier work doesn’t get done. That isn’t true of the remainder.
Is everything that’s sat in your inbox actually your work, strictly speaking? Has work been pushed on you by other people or departments? Have tasks been assigned to you that should, by rights, be dealt with by somebody else? If so, stop being a doormat and hand that work back again.
You’re the one who’s going to be held accountable if the things you genuinely should be doing don’t get done, so it makes no sense for you to be prevented from doing that by dealing with things that shouldn’t be on your plate to begin with. Make sure tasks are in the hands of the people who ought to be dealing with them. Trust your junior staff to handle important tasks if you believe them to be capable of it. Push back on things that shouldn’t land on your desk. Take control of what’s expected of you.
While it might be tempting to promise your boss or customers that you’ll be able to get something done quickly in order to impress them, you should avoid doing so unless your schedule is clear. It’s better to set a long deadline and impress them by delivering early than to set a short one and then have to request an extension or apologize for being late.
Most people appreciate that quality work takes time, and nobody should want a ‘rush job’ being done on something they’re paying money for. If you know you’re busy, don’t be afraid to say that work is going to take you longer than normal to complete. Feel free to explain why if it’s appropriate to do so. Don’t trap yourself by promising things that will be extremely difficult to achieve if the same result could be achieved by taking longer, with no harm done by the delay. Being able to prioritize effectively is knowing you can only do so much. If you push it too far, you’ll exhaust yourself, and that’s when you begin to make mistakes.
Much of this advice is about personal responsibility – and that means the personal responsibility of other people as well as your own. De-clutter your workload by handing things away, push hard for realistic deadlines rather than the arbitrary ones that might otherwise be imposed on you, and limit your exposure to distractions. You’ll be surprised at how quickly these tips will make a difference to your day-to-day office life and help you prioritize effectively, so put them into practice!