By Tim Hird
Swamped. Snowed under. Just trying to stay above water. Whatever office cliché you use to describe it, we have all been in that situation where we feel like we might be swallowed up by our workload. But there are ways to manage your to-do list to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Here's how to increase productivity and make peace with your workload once and for all.
Messy work areas are unproductive. If you are unable to find a file or report easily because it is lost in a pile of mess, you have a problem. Take the time to organise your work areas by keeping your important files, manuals and reports in an accessible location, and clearing unused documents from your desk This will enhance your capacity to handle other tasks and raises the probability that you will be able to find the items you do need faster and easier.
Ultimately, if you are feeling pressured at work, you would not have time to search your desk drawers for that long-lost presentation. Find an organisational system that works for you and stick with it.
Despite what many people may think about multi-tasking, it can be counterproductive. Your mind will wander from one topic to another and you may fail to accomplish anything. Even if you are able to juggle multiple tasks, the quality of your output may be higher if you are able to allocate more time to think through, plan and execute specific tasks.
If you find yourself getting involved in too many things, re-evaluate your involvement. The best way to stop unproductive serial multi-tasking is to create priority lists with deadlines. When applicable, complete one project before you move on to the next one.
Make a to-do list, then strike items off
It is easy to be overwhelmed if you are looking at a to-do list that spans an entire page. Focusing on one item at each time will allow you to complete each task more efficiently.
First, draw up a to-do list to stay on task and highlight items that are a priority. Cover up the list, except for one “high priority task” at a time. This will allow you to focus better on the task at hand. Striking off something from the list every time you complete a task will also give you a sense of achievement, and make a long list of tasks appear more manageable.
Set time limits
Many workers, especially modern women, are often overwhelmed by the demands of maintaining order both at home and at work. However, this is still achievable if a time limit is set for each task.
To do this, try assigning realistic time slots for each task. For example, focus on engaging in social media activities for the purpose of marketing the business (not sending photos or playing games) in the first 15 minutes. After which, spend 30 minutes responding to e-mails. When the time is up, move on to the next task. This way, you are able to keep track of the time spent and systemically work towards achieving numerous “mini milestones” each day.
If interruptions are keeping you from your responsibilities, learn how to deal with them. Firstly, identify and eliminate things that are timewasters. Common culprits are excessive idle chatting with colleagues, spending a huge amount of time surfing the Internet or engaging in non-work related activities. Similar to procrastination, these activities eat into productive work time and before you know it, the day has gone by.
To combat work disruptions, use voice-mail to cut down on telephone interruptions, if possible. Set specific times for checking e-mail and resist the urge to click on every new e-mail that comes in, focusing on the matter at hand. Managers should also give employees a specific time to meet and discuss matters with them each day, in order to make the most of each session.
Assess your workload before taking on new tasks
The paradox of today's work environment is that the more you do, the more is expected of you. In order to better assess your workload, ask yourself the following questions before agreeing to take on new responsibilities:
• Is the task aligned with your priorities and goals?
• Are you likely to be as prone to saying yes to such a request tomorrow or next week?
• What else could you do that would be more rewarding?
• What other pressing tasks and responsibilities are you likely to face?
• Does the other party have other options besides you? Will he or she be disappointed if you say no?
At the end of the day, it is largely up to you on how you want to manage your time and workload. With a bit of strategic planning and disciplined work habits, you will soon be better able to productively and effectively tackle that ever-mounting pile of work that comes with increasing responsibilities.
(Tim Hird is Managing Director of specialized recruiting company Robert Half International Singapore and Japan)
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