There are those times when you’ve taken on way too many tasks and projects and the way forward starts to look like a jumbled mess of confusion. You know you need to concentrate on the important tasks first in order to get things moving, but the problem is that everything is a priority..
It’s a recipe for disaster, anxiety, and stress.
Instead of standing still and throwing up your hands in frustration, take a step back. Ask yourself, how important is this, really?
Here are a few tips to help you get your head straight and power through your growing pile of work.
Get clarification from higher up the food chain
If these projects are assignments from your supervisor, then sit down with them. They should be able to tell you immediately which projects and tasks are priority and which ones can be pushed back or scrapped altogether.
Enlist the help of others
This could be a great opportunity to stretch your managerial muscles. Identify which tasks you could use help with and begin finding coworkers, friends, and family who would be willing to either pitch in or take the task off your hands completely.
Begin at the end
If you know when the deadlines are for each of your tasks and projects, you can begin building a more realistic list of priorities based on this one practical element. A closer deadline of one week will naturally take higher precedence over one that is two years out.
Go inside the matrix
A handy tool that project managers use to help them determine the priority levels of the different aspects of their projects is referred to as the ‘triple constraint.’ Begin by drawing three columns on a sheet of paper (or just use a spreadsheet with three columns). Label each of the columns with one of the three major factors that limits a project: time, cost, and scope.
Every item or project on your list should be run through this matrix in order to identify where you will need to concentrate your priorities. Sometimes, you may discover that a project is not feasible because the deadline is too short, the scope is too vast, or the cost is too prohibitive.
The advantage of using this simple tool is it allows you to immediately release that every project is not the same. Even though they may feel as though they are all top priorities to you, once you see that some tasks are simpler than others, or have tighter deadlines, or will require more resources than you currently have, it will give you somewhere to begin. And when it comes to being efficient and productive, clarity is a sanity saver.
It is important to note here that creating an organized approach to your projects does not require any complicated systems or software. In fact, you should experiment with more than one system in order to find the one that works the best for you.
There are plenty of old school analog methods like David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) that still remain popular. The essence of the GTD method is the five stages: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. You can easily get lost in the weeds with this method, but the key factors that make GTD work is first identifying what projects and tasks you have to do and then listing out what all the various steps are you will need to complete in order to accomplish the task.
There are plenty of software programs that are purpose built to help you get a handle on all of your projects and to-do items. Some, like Trello and WorkFlowy, can even handle complicated projects. A fun feature of Trello is that it allows you to create as many ‘boards’ as you need. Boards can represent a single to-do list or a single project with many steps.
You can then manipulate the tasks on your board, moving them from column to column. It is a simple way to see at a glance exactly where you are in a project. For example, if you have a board that represents a product launch, you can have three columns on your board labeled: To Do, In Progress, and Completed.
Coming up with a plan for setting your own priorities and tracking your responsibilities may at first seem like yet another complicated task on your growing mountain of projects, but it is the one thing that you can do that will bring everything else under control and restore your sanity.
Stress is a natural part of life, but it shouldn’t get out of hand. There is never a good reason to let it completely take over your life.
What systems do you have in place to help maintain order in your busy life?
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- How to Prioritize Your Tasks When Everything Seems Important - February 24, 2016