Have you ever had a moment in the workplace where you felt as though you had tasks being thrown at you left, right and centre? Where you felt as though you needed to clone yourself just to get through the day? It’s so important when working in a busy workplace environment that we learn to deal with competing priorities and distractions (hello, emails!) throughout the day.
By putting some simple strategies in place for ourselves, this helps us to ease overwhelm, work calmly and to achieve the most effective outcomes for our supervisors or clients. So, how do we control the work rather than letting the work control us? Here’s some of the invaluable actions I’ve put in place for myself over the years;
- Plan your day: It’s so important to start your day off on the right foot. You can do this by taking 5-10 minutes of downtime at the start of each day to reflect on your tasks that are due that day and which ones are the biggest priority. I like to start my day by completing my biggest and most urgent tasks first as that way they’re off my mind and I can continue through the rest of my day with my usual work, pushing anything non-urgent to the next day if needed. I find that using a calendar or task system such as Asana or Click Up is the best way to track all of my ongoing, regular tasks. These systems track your recurring tasks and present them to you daily, so you don’t have to use your valuable time trying to remember them yourself. On days which I’m very pressed for time, I like to “time block” my day and schedule my tasks in for specific start and finish times. This also appeals to my competitive side, as I like to try and “beat” my time allocated throughout the day.
- Reflect and plan your next day: Following on from tip 1, I also love to take a couple of minutes at the end of each day to reflect and celebrate all that I’ve accomplished. You deserve to acknowledge yourself for all the hard work and achievements you’ve made that day! It’s at this time that I also start to loosely forward-plan and make mental notes of my most pressing tasks or meetings for the following day. This allows me to come to work the next morning feeling in control, prepared and ready to have another productive day.
- Focus on one task at a time and minimise distractions: One of the biggest things which can make you feel “bogged down” and like you haven’t achieved enough is distractions. In this day and age, it’s so tempting to quickly pop in and read an email or a message when we should be dedicating our attention to another task. Before you know it, you often get pulled into the content of the email and lose time. The best thing we can do to have effective time management is to pick a task and focus on only that task. If that means turning off your notifications for a period of time or closing your email then so be it. If this makes you feel uneasy, schedule yourself pockets of time where you check these messages in between tasks throughout the day. Be firm with yourself and stick to them.
- Keep some free time in your diary for unexpected situations that arise: Let’s face it, things often don’t go to plan. You may have planned your day right down to the minute, but then an urgent task arises which needs your immediate attention. To combat this, make sure to allow yourself some contingency time when planning your day. This will ease any overwhelm when an urgent task comes your way, as you’ve already allowed for some deviation from your plan. And if an urgent task doesn’t come your way that day, fantastic! Time to start a job which was originally due tomorrow or later in the week.
- The Stop Approach: So, you’ve implemented everything above- you’ve planned your day, time blocked your tasks, emails and messages, minimised distractions and allowed some contingency time. But you’re still feeling overwhelmed. This is when it’s time to STOP. Stop what you’re doing, literally stop. Take a few deep breaths, get up and move away from your computer. Get some fresh air, move your body and have a glass of water. Come back to your computer when you’re feeling ready and calm. Take some time to sit down and prioritise- what tasks are actually urgent and what tasks can be pushed back? By this stage, you may already be feeling better and confident with your new plan of attack. If not, proceed to point 6.
- Communicate: This has to be one of the most important things you can implement for yourself when you’re feeling that you have competing priorities. Communicate with your peers, superiors and your clients if needed. Find out what tasks are actually urgent- perhaps you thought something absolutely needed to be completed today and it turns out you were setting yourself up with some unrealistic expectations? Perhaps a teammate has capacity to assist you (just as you would assist them in times of need)? Sometimes, just having a second set of eyes look over your tasks makes all the difference. Don’t be afraid to communicate early, before a problem arises.
By implementing these strategies for yourself in busy workplaces, this will hopefully allow you to have more enjoyable, productive days. Your supervisors and clients will thank you too! Not to mention the sense of accomplishment you will feel at the end of each day, knowing that you smashed your workload and were the most efficient that you could be. Your time is valuable, so make the most of it!
By Rachael Atkinson