I’m not the first person to ever look at a to-do list and feel overwhelmed. Ok, so I’ve never been one to actually write down to-do lists (and I know that’s part of the problem). But the question is how do you stay focused on getting the thing done that you need to get done?
My natural answer is to do nothing. I’m a deer-in-the-headlights kind of person. When I have too many choices or feel overwhelmed I tend to freeze and do nothing (read: go watch TV). That’s a bad trait for being productive.
In terms of flight-or-fight I tend to choose flight, easily moving from one half-finished thing to another. I bounce around without focusing on powering through one task before moving on to the next. (I’m sure there’s a medication for that, but I’ll pass.)
Recently at my work I developed a simple flow chart or a prioritized list that I filter my activities through. Over time this filtering process can become second nature and just something you do mentally as tasks come in, but some of us need that written reminder, certainly in the beginning as we develop the mental habit.
This is what I do. Maybe something similar will work for you. Write down a prioritized list on a sticky note on the corner of your monitor or pin it to the wall or put it on your desk. Physically writing it down and keeping it handy helps.
I work in a call-center so my first priority is to answer calls and take care of our customers. So my #1 task is to answer incoming calls. If the phone rings, answer it!
But my day also consists of answering voicemails left for me specifically. These are people who called our office, reached me intentionally, and took the time to leave me a message while I was on another line or away from my desk. They are my #2 priority. We also get a lot of general voicemails left elsewhere in the company or for our department specifically. These are also important, but emails sent directly to me are a higher priority, so they go next on the list. #3 is direct emails.
Next I had to decide if general voicemails or general emails sent to the company are more important. Again, leaving a voicemail seems like a higher level of commitment and interest, so I prioritized them next and put answering general emails last. So my final list looks like this:
1) Answer calls as they come in.
2) Return personal voicemails.
3) Respond to personal emails.
4) Return general voicemails.
5) Answer general emails.
I literally have this on a piece of paper where I can see it as I work through my day. I don’t “consult” it every time I get a voicemail or email forwarded to me. But it does help me stay focused. Adapt something similar that will work for you.
We all can get distracted by the immediate. When that email pop-up message flashes in the corner of my screen telling me I have new mail I just naturally want to check it out. But if I have something else I’m doing that’s more important, I need to stay focused on the next most important task.
Sometimes even with the increase in productivity that comes with a prioritized list you just stay too busy to work through everything on your list. What do you do then?
If the phones are really busy, for example, I might never get to #5 on my list, but #5 needs to get done. It might mean setting aside 15 or 30 minutes at the end of the day, or first thing the next morning where #5 becomes #1 and you just focus on that task exclusively to get it done.
What techniques do you employ to help you stay focused and on-task at work or at home? Share in the comments below.