One of the best lessons I learned about time and workload management without going crazy was at one of my first jobs in New York City. I was working for a boutique architecture firm at the time, and suffice to say, there were days when my “task list” in Outlook stretched over pages and pages.
At first, I would go nuts trying to get everything done each day, so I could start the next day with a clean slate. Eventually, my manager and I started having regular meetings – sometimes daily – where we’d review my task list and she’d help me prioritize what had to get done. When we started, we’d mark a few things, but I’d still try to rush through them and get to the other items on my list.
Then, one day, I watched as she managed her own to-do list and realized I was making a very basic (and very mistaken) assumption: that all – or even a majority – of tasks on my list were going to get done at all. The next time we sat down and she told me what I needed to prioritize that day, I realized that she truly did not expect that I would finish other things on my list that day.
The realization was liberating.
It’s been several jobs and several years, but nowadays, I keep a running task list – I use a Google app called “Manage It,” though their task canvas also works. Part of having the running task list is knowing that it is unlikely to ever be empty. The other part is not beating myself up when I don’t get as much struck off the list as I’d like.
For someone like me, who was used to stressing about finishing things quickly (and well) and moving on to the next item, always reaching for that blank slate, this was a major change in philosophy. It’s left me calmer, happier and provides a fantastic tool for one-on-one meetings with my current manager: she can see what I’m working on, see what my priorities are, and give me direction on when my workload might enable me to help others on my team. Since I’ve detached from needing to finish every task every day, I stress less and recognize that my workload, while immense, is also manageable.
What techniques do you use for managing your workload? Simple to-do lists? Automated apps? Do you try to finish everything every day, or are there things you keep on your list just to make sure you don’t forget them?