Keep Tasks Flowing to Feel More Productive

Keep Tasks Flowing to Feel More Productive

Time management is a challenge, whether you’re a CEO, a working parent or a college student. (Or all three.)

In the Minding Your Matters Flexible Structure Method, we often talk about the flow of objects in and out of our space. While it’s easy to see and somewhat easy to understand how this works with our stuff, it’s much more difficult to visualize flow with our tasks. That’s because we cannot physically “see” time or tasks. But task flow is an important part of organizing your days, weeks and months. And if you’re overwhelmed by too much to do, it’s time to examine what’s flowing in — and not flowing out.

Take a moment to look at your calendar and to-do list.

  • How many tasks do you have now? How many projects?
  • How many tasks are you adding each day? How many items are you typically crossing off the list?
  • How much time do you devote to completing tasks and projects?
  • Is there any white space in your calendar to allow time for getting some extra things done?

See Your Tasks
For that first question, you can simply count them out. But if you are a visual person, try this: Grab your pencil/pen jar and empty it onto your desk. For each task, add a pencil or pen back into the jar. For each project, put a thicker pen or marker in the jar. Can you “see” how busy you are? Then, for one day, remove a pencil each time you complete one task and add a new one each time you add a task. How empty is the cup at the end of the day?

Chances are, you’re adding at least three tasks per day, even if you’re adding them to the end of the list. At the same time, you might only be completing one or two. That means you’re piling more and more on yourself. No wonder you feel overwhelmed!

Reduce Overwhelm by Increasing Flow
There is no such thing as “done.” You will never finish. That’s not the goal. Instead, picture a river, one that isn’t full of white rapids, but not a lazy river, either. Think of a babbling brook; it’s moving, but not too fast or too slowly. Your goal is to keep your tasks on that pace.

Here are some ways to improve your flow:flowing

  • Catch up a little by saying “no” for a full day, or even a week. Anytime someone asks you to do something extra, politely decline. You may have to practice this out loud {link to Janice post on this} in the mirror to get the hang of it. Try these “no” approaches:
    • Suggest someone else who could do the task.
    • Ask about the timetable. Find out if you can begin the task next week.
    • Trade the new task for one of your old ones. If someone assigns you something, say, “Sure, if you can take care of X for me.”
  • Schedule a “catch up” hour or day. Turn off your phone and ignore your email. Find somewhere to work where you won’t be bothered and just work on those tasks and projects that feel overwhelming. Long term, the solution here is to schedule at least 30 minutes of time into your calendar each day for working on some tasks.
  • Delegate. Janice talks about the challenge of delegating in her ebook, “Moving Beyond Me.” It’s a challenge for a lot of people. But take a look at that to-do list. Is there something you can assign to someone else to make your life less stressful?
  • Cross some out. Admit it: that task that has been on the list for two months doesn’t appear to be a priority. Otherwise, you would have done it already. Ask yourself why it is on the list. What would happen if you crossed it out and ignored it? If it really should be done, spend some time today working on it.