In this first ever episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer how to manage an overwhelming inbox, project list and todos.
Hello and welcome to this first episode of The Working With Podcast. A show dedicated to answering your productivity and self-development questions.
Hello and thank you for tuning in for this first ever episode of the Working With... Podcast. My name is Carl Pullein and in this podcast, I answer questions that you have sent me throughout the week and hopefully I will be able to help you develop a great personal productivity system as well as helping you to develop a life you want to live.
This week’s question is all about managing multiple projects, tasks and commitments. This was a very popular question when I asked for questions and it is a very difficult question to answer. But, that said there is always a way to tame an overwhelming inbox and project list so let’s get straight into it. The question was:
How should you manage an ever-growing list of tasks... some mandatory, some optional? Some in the near future, and some someday.
Okay, this question really boils down to how you organise your todo list manager. Mandatory tasks - taskthat just have to be done—usually on a specific day, should be put into a routines folder or project. These tasks can be set up with a recurring date, so when you have completed the task, it will come back the next time it is due. Tasks such as “send out weekly newsletter”, or “review customer feedback for items that need fixing” can all be kept in a routines folder and set to repeat on the appropriate day. As these are either daily, weekly or monthly repeating tasks, then you can put them away inside your routines project folder and forget about them until they come up in your daily todo list. I would recommend you review this folder occasionally, I find some routine tasks either end, or their date changes. Keeping it up to date will stop you from ignoring the tasks when they come up if they are not due.
Project mandatory tasks, tasks that must be done to keep a project moving forward should be dated and done on the days they need to be done. To be honest with you, I always have a good idea of what is important and needs doing. My daily review at the end of the day tells me what I need to be doing next. I can then schedule a day when I will do it. So, I find that adding dates to these kind of tasks is not that important, but if you feel more comfortable to see tasks like this on a daily basis, then by all means add a date.
I think the issue here is throughout the day you are going to get a lot of disruptions, That’s just life. You need to be realistic about what you can get done in a day. The cliche, don’t bite off more than you chew’ is very apt here. I usually have one big project goal each day. It could be “continue writing book”, or “continue designing the workbook”, what I don’t do is write something like "write 10 pages of my book”. That would be unrealistic. That might be something I hope to do but is probably very unrealistic given I am likely to be interrupted a lot.
Optional tasks, tasks that you don’t have to do, but would be helpful if you do. I suppose an example of this would be say, get you haircut or find out how much it would cost to replace the office computers really depend on how loud they are shouting at you. What I mean is if your hair is uncontrollably long and every morning when you look in the mirror you say to yourself I really must get my haircut, I think needs to be moved to a mandatory list. What you can do here is just apply a date and make that appointment. It could even become a daily outcome task—a task that you must complete on a given day—Really that choice is yours.
But I go back to how you are organising your lists. Some work just must be done on a given day. Well, those are the priorities for that day. Other, non-urgent tasks, can be done as and when you have time. I find if I have a spare 30 minutes before lunch, or before I finish my work at the end of day, is a great time to do a quick look at my non-dated tasks and do whichever ones I can do right then and there.
The thing is, if you are doing more work related tasks than your own self-development or goal tasks, you are prioritising the wrong things. To me, my goals and self-development are always the priorities, There are days when work takes up the whole day, that’s okay. But if 7/7 days are all work—work I am doing for someone else—then something is wrong in my priorities and I would have to re-evaluate what I am working on.
One thing you are going to have accept. Your tasks lists, both work and personal, are never ever going to get clear. If they did, you would be dead. There is always something we have to be doing. Eating, sleeping, talking with family, shopping, servicing the car whatever. If you ever found yourself in a position where you had completed everything on your lists and you were still alive, be worried. Either you are not using your todo lists properly, for example you are not capturing everything, or you have lost everything. We are human—designed to be always be doing. And that is normal and healthy.
That said, if one of your lists is becoming enormously long, then try allocating a week where your goal is to get as much done on that list as you possibly can. This is a great trick also if you need to really get a project moving forward. When you do your weekly review—you ARE doing a weekly review aren’t you?—You can decide if you want to focus in on a particular list or project the following week to get it under control.
Another tip is you make full use of a Someday / Maybe list. This is great for all those ideas, tasks and other things that are not particularly important right now, but you would maybe like to do someday in the future. This list or project doesn’t need to be reviewed every week, and is a great place to store ideas or things you would like to do in the future.
I will finish on some basis best practices.
Remember, you cannot do everything all at once. You can only do one thing at a time. The difficulty is choosing what to do. That’s where you need to develop your skill of prioritising, and prioritising is a skill worth developing, Look for the tasks that are time sensitive, ie the ones that for one reason or another must be done today or this week. Do those first. Tasks that are less time sensitive, but do have an upcoming deadline, should be done next and all those optional tasks and projects can be given the lowest priority.
I know sudden, urgent things will come up daily and weekly, and for those you will need to decide when to do them. It is your choice.
Ending the day by doing a quick review of what is coming up tomorrow can also help to focus you on the things that need doing. Don’t try and do too many things though, just try and do two important things, things that will have the biggest positive impact on your day. When you get into the habit of doing these daily reviews, you will very quickly get better at making the right decisions about what you need to work on tomorrow. Those ten to fifteen minutes at the end of the day can really help to give you enough breathing room to make sure you are moving in the right direction.
But remember, your todo list is never going to end. It will always be a fight between what you are doing and what you are adding. That’s perfectly normal and means you are alive and well. Really managing your tasks is all about making sure you are doing enough to stay afloat and that you are achieving some kind of balance.
Hopefully, this episode has given you some food for thought.
Thank you for listening and don’t forget, if you have a question you would like answering about productivity or self-development and achieving your goals, all you need to do is email me, DM me on Twitter or Facebook or just fill out the question form on my website - carlpullein.com.
It just remains for me to wish you an incredibly productive week and I hope you will tune in next week for the next episode.