5 Ways To Survive A Task Explosion

5 Ways To Survive A Task Explosion
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

Have you ever found that there is a time when your life is suddenly frantically busy? So much that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. I’ve heard this called a Task Explosion.

I think explosion is an apt description, because for me it always happens suddenly, I never see it coming, and it sends me reeling across the landscape.

I’ve had a couple of these happen this past year. A couple frantic all-hands-on-deck to get product out the door, coupled with family demands and suddenly everything is turbulent.

Here are five ways to survive a task explosion:

Leave Things Behind

For everything you say yes to (however unwillingly), you are saying no to something else. You have to be prepared to leave things behind – you are not going to be able to get everything done.

Example: What are some things I gave up? Weedubg, housecleaning, fiction reading, podcasts, and crafting. None of these was particularly pressing, and none had consequences for being postponed. Which leads me to the next point:

Consider The Consequences

Sometimes there will be no easy choices. In order to survive, you are going to have to choose your outcomes wisely.

Example: You have to stay at work to get a product finished for people waiting to test it. But you are also scheduled to be at a meeting of your homeowner’s situation, where you were expected to present one side of a contentious argument that affects your neighborhood. The consequence for not getting the product finished is people will be idle and the schedule will slip (not to mention it will be brought up at your next review). The consequence for missing the meeting is the issue you have been working on for months will not be brought up, and you’ll have to rebuild momentum. Which is more important? I can’t tell you that. But you do have to choose, so weigh the consequences.

Time Slice

You can call this (10+2)*5, Pomodoro or whatever name you wish, but this is basically allowing yourself certain time on task, followed by time on another task. The outcome is you will get more done overall than if you worked straight through. (Although it works best of the tasks are not similar, like both working on the computer)

These techniques basically fool yourself into believing personally set deadlines. You have a certain amount of time to accomplish task A, at which point, you must switch to task B for a set amount of time. Knowing you will have to take a break will force you to push yourself and get things done.

By the way, this technique only works with an independent timer – you can’t do it by watching the clock. ๐Ÿ™‚

Example: during my last NaNoWriMo, I was facing a serious word count deficit because of some rather untimely bronchitis. So I set my timer, wrote for 20 minutes, then cleaned a bathroom for 10. Then I wrote for another 20, then folded laundry. So on, and by the time four hours had passed, I was nearly caught up – both with writing and housework.

Be Productively Lazy

No one can run full speed for ever. You must take time to be off task in order to maintain peak performance. But that doesn’t mean you can sit in front of the television for four hours. The key is to get things done during your down time that also have the affect of recharging you. The trick is to do something completely away from your other tasks.

Example: I find knitting a soothing activity if I am working on something that is repetitive. So when I am super busy, I take 20 minutes and knit. My mind zones out and I get a break, but my knitting progresses.

Keep An Accurate List

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have an accurate list of everything you have to do. It is even more important when the tasks are coming at you furiously. Once you have a list, you have a better starting place to know what to cut and what to save. You can also see things that can be delegated.

Example: When I started working the extra hours recently, there were a lot of things I had to do to prepare for a class I was teaching the week following. By listing out each little step (proofing the slides, getting the handouts copied, submitting the receipts) I was able to find ways that others could help me in the tasks.

Having a task explosion isn’t fun. But it is possible to survive it with a little effort.