Your boss is breathing down your neck about the report that was supposed to be on her desk ten minutes ago. Lunch has been sitting in the microwave for well over 30 minutes. Outlook decided to finally update and blast you with 47 emails and your mom sent you another text about the family dinner you can’t miss tonight. Oh, and have you even peed today?
On days when it seems like you barely have time to breathe, it is good to have a few handy tricks up your sleeve to get the job done. It all comes down to prioritization. Find a cute notebook and crank out your to-do list. I’ll tell what to do next.
Do the quick tasks first.
The goal is to accomplish as many things on the list as possible before the clock strikes five, right? One way to scratch off tasks is to complete the short tasks first.
Rather than spend three hours on that one big task, spend three hours accomplishing five smaller tasks. When your manager comes to check in on you, they’ll be happy to see progress on your list.
These tasks might be those you think you’ll accomplish during your lunch break or in-between meetings this afternoon. I say, get them done first thing.
Does accounting need that expense report? Send it.
Do you need to log your time from yesterday? Do it.
Aren’t you supposed to add a period to that presentation slide? Fix it.
Group like tasks together.
Do all the emails at once. Submit all of the work orders at once. Sometimes it’s easier to work through your task list by type of work rather than by client or by project. This way you aren’t wasting time by jumping between different programs.
Break up large tasks into sub-tasks.
Big tasks have to get done too! They are very overwhelming at first and can cause mental blocks when you don’t know where to start. Take 10 minutes to break it up into more manageable, smaller tasks.
You’ll be able to digest the big picture by breaking out the novel into its chapters. And again, when your manager walks by, you can let them know exactly where you are, showing your productivity.
A new business presentation can be broken down by section or slides. And if you are a digital marketing guru like me, a social media campaign can be broken down into platforms or test A and B.
Block your calendar off.
Leaving time open on your calendar signals availability for meetings. When you have a long to-do list, meetings can quickly suck your time away leaving it impossible to accomplish.
Simply block off time on your calendar and mark as busy. It’s true, you are busy. Don’t feel bad about prioritizing your established workload over a “check-in” or “new tool demo”. Those things can wait! Sometimes you just have to put your headphones on and work.
Work with your project manager.
Or the person who delegates tasks to you. Talk through each project and understand the flexibility of each. You shouldn’t say “yes” to everything. Be realistic upfront to prevent chaos in the end.
If you’re the boss, invest in a project management tool. At Full-Time Friends, we use Asana. It’s an easy way to keep things moving through the pipeline and assign people to the tasks. You can also assign deadlines and see where projects may overlap. If you’re visual like me, it can really help prioritize the tasks seeing them on a calendar.
Ask for help.
If you have 20 hours of work crammed into an 8-hour work day, it’s time to get some help. If you can somehow manage this kind of workload, you are my superhero. But I also think it’s admirable to ask for help when you need it.
Be honest with your supervisor and let them know you are overwhelmed ahead of time. Believe me, you don’t want to start throwing out excuses when it’s 5 o’clock. Instead, have a five-minute standing meeting at the beginning of the day when your to-do list is fresh. Relay all of your concerns so that they are completely aware from the very start.
Transparency can go a long way. If you have a good manager, they’ll help you sort your tasks and even find a way to push a few deadlines. Your performance is a direct reflection of them. They want you to succeed because it also looks negative on them if you don’t. Don’t set yourself up for failure, ask for help.
If your company has interns, use them. They are more than willing to help and accept any opportunity to learn. And if you don’t have interns, bring up the idea! We have a great article with pointers on how to manage interns.
Your to-do list doesn’t have to be impossible. Be proactive and talk to your manager on those unusually hard days. Accomplish the quick tasks first and break up the big ones into bite-size pieces. Block off your calendar to make the best use of your precious time. And when it really is too much, ask for help.
Because I’ll let you in on a little secret. The boss babes of the world didn’t accomplish everything on their own.
Take a deep breath and tackle that to-do list. Share your best “to-do list prioritization skills” (yes-that’s a thing) in the comments below!