How to be productive when there’s too much to do

There are times when the world beneath you seems like a treadmill, and you just can't run fast enough to keep up. For every critical project you complete, three new ones show up. Your call-waiting dings twice during a brief call. The stack of "I need your input" memo's is deeper than you'll ever work through in reasonable time.

And while there are plenty of useful techniques for prioritizing, delegating, and staying effective, there are still moments where no system will work. It is, frankly, an impossible situation.

The trick is to surrender to the impossibility of pleasing everyone, and find the highest value task to do next. It's best to use these moments to do SOMETHING great, rather than EVERYTHING poorly.

When this happens to me, I go through the following steps to get clarity on where I should best spend my time:

  1. Scan and Collect: Without taking action on anything, scan through your email list, your project/todo list, the piles of things on your desk. Write a short list of anything that screams at you. These are your competing priorities.
  2. Schedule a Mind Sweep: Book 2 hours with yourself in the near future where you will do a complete mind sweep. It’s important to immediately let your brain “release” the stress of things which are important but buried. By scheduling this time, you know you have time set aside to get clear of all those things.
  3. Hit the Mute Button: Turn off notifications, close your door, put the phone on silent, and set a timer for 2 hours. This is YOU time, take it, go dark!
  4. Decide What to Do: Look at your short list from step 1, and pick something that you can finish by the end of your 2 hour window. If everything is too big, slice off a 2 hour chunk and do that.
  5. Do the Work: Make it happen. Slay the dragon. Eat the frog. Use whatever cheesy metaphor motivates you!

When your two hours is up, you should feel some sense of accomplishment. But more importantly, you should feel a tad bit more in control of your own priorities.

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