Your email inbox is overflowing, you’ve got a day full of meetings, you didn't finish that research yesterday, and you’ve got that presentation due in two days. Sound familiar? I’ve had a few of these days, so set about finding ways to manage my workload better. The overarching approach to how I manage my workload is to trust in my decisions and create positive habits.
Here are the top five ways I made my workload more manageable and less stressful; And I became more productive as a result!
1. Gmail is your best friend!
I appreciate you may not be using Gmail, so here’s my first tip; if you can, switch now.
A cluttered inbox always leads me to distraction, but having a well-managed inbox helps reduce stress and frees up headspace. My daily quest is to have no emails in my inbox, known here at Distilled as ‘inbox zero’. How do I do this? Simple. Liberal use of the archive and snooze functions of Gmail.
I’m ruthless when it comes to managing my inbox. If it’s not relevant, I archive it. If I’ve read it, I archive it. If I’ve read it and responded, I archive it ( you get the picture). Any opportunity to remove an email from my inbox I take it. Archiving is excellent, and the email is always there if I need it ( I search for it via Gmail Search). Trust in the archive, if you search you will find.
The snooze function is going to be your best friend. If you’re not familiar with snooze, the feature lets you reschedule emails to appear at a time when you want them to. This works great if you're going to reply later or if you’ve sent a response you want to follow up in a few days. Just click snooze, select the time/date, and the email’s removed from your inbox (and headspace). It will pop back in like magic when you’re ready for it! I use this to follow up proposals or remind me I need to respond, and it’s a great way of prioritising what you need to do and when to.
Bonus tip: You can do this in any section of your Gmail account ( e.g., your sent emails).
I’ve found by using these functions my inbox is better managed, helping me to be more productive and less stressed.
2. Have a personal organisation system
Having a personal organisation system is crucial to managing my workload and being productive.
Get a system in place where you can collect and prioritise what you need to do and when. Don’t use paper, it will get lost (plus let’s save the environment people). There’s plenty of systems you can plug into (Monday, Taskworld, Asana, and many more)
I use Trello. I’ve created a board that lists the days of the week. Here’s mine below:
It’s simple. As soon as I have a task, I make a decision when I need to do it, I add it to that list and forget about it until it’s time to do it. I know what you’re thinking, “what if I have to do it every Monday?” I label it appropriately, i.e. “Do this every Monday.” What if one day becomes super busy? I make a decision, does it need to be done, or can I roll it to a later date?
The beauty of Trello is that you can move the card along to another day. If you like, you can also incorporate the organisation into your personal life. You can be a super geek like me; I even have a list of items of clothing I want to buy and where they’re located.
I find an added benefit of having a system in place is that I naturally develop a structure to my day. My ultimate tip is; try to do it consistently, so that it becomes second nature. If you can learn to trust your method, it will free up headspace. When I started using this system to help me develop this habit, I used to add tasks and review what I needed to do first thing in the morning, then at lunch (so I could realign priorities if needed) and then at the end of the day to prepare for the following day. Now I add tasks as and when they come to me; when I get a task, I assess what I need to do and by when. Then I add it to my Trello board.
When you first start to set up your system it may take a bit of time initially to get used to capturing your tasks and organising them. After a couple of days, it will become second nature, so stick with it, and you’ll reap the benefit.
Get a system in place that works for you. My system has made it easier and given me more confidence in making decisions. It helps me to capture takes, close loops and, as a result, frees up my headspace because I don't have to worry about a mental to-do list - I trust in it and work through it methodically instead of procrastinating or flitting between different tasks as I remember them. It’s helped me to focus on my tasks better and made me more productive.
3. Be aware of other people’s headspace
If I need an answer, if I need to know how to do something, If I need to know anything, I Google it. Google is always my first go to.
Asking someone a question I can find myself takes up others headspace. All I’m doing is shifting my workload and adding stress to someone else. I’m not saying don't ask any questions ever, rather ask questions when you need to. It’s far easier and more efficient to just Google “how do I do” something rather than interrupting someone to show you, and a bit of self-learning is always fun!
I’ve found I’m less stressed as I can save time and find the answer myself, rather than waiting on someone else and watching that clock countdown. If you can get it done yourself, you’ll be more productive and tick off another thing on your to-do list!
4. Create templates
Creating templates saves time, makes me more efficient, and speeds up getting things done.
This is about working smart. Only create templates for the most common, regularly occurring things. There’s no point in a template for a super bespoke thing that will never happen again. Use templates as a starting point to save time, but remember adding a personal touch is always a good idea.
I work on a lot of proposals, and all of them are different. That said, there are parts which won’t change, e.g. who we are and what we do. I’ve created a ‘master deck’ that has all those things which most proposals will include. I can create a structure quickly and get to focus on the questions that need answering. This significantly reduces my workload as I’m not starting from scratch every time. I’m less stressed and have more time to focus on things that will make the difference, e.g. answering that specific client question. Where it works, I share my templates with others to help them reduce their workload, and that creates a multiplier effect - more people get more time, more stuff gets done!
5. Do you need to do it?
This is dependent on the kind of person you are. I like to think most people want to help others, and, for me, that can create a challenge.
Because I like to be helpful, I find that sometimes (fairly often!) I offer to help others or take ownership of tasks that aren’t my responsibility. Ultimately, I’m adding to my workload and stress, and distracting my focus away from the task I’m responsible for. If it’s not your responsibility, don’t do it, direct it to the person who’s responsible. This is the concept of ‘who’s got the monkey’.
This helps maintain a workload that consists of things I’m directly responsible for. It also means my time’s productive getting things done that I need to do, and I’m not adding stress by taking on other people’s work!
Summary: Build a routine
You’re always going to have new tasks to do. By using the methods I’ve shared; hopefully, you’ll manage your workload better, feel less stressed and become more productive. I’ve found by developing a routine and repeating the approaches daily until they become second nature, is the way to go. I’d recommend cherry-picking one or two of the tips I’ve shared, to begin with, so you can familiarise yourself and adjust to a new way of managing your workload.
I’d love to hear what you do and how you manage your workload, do you do anything I do already?