Written by Chelsea Damon. This guest post comes from Scouted.io, an algorithm-based job matching platform based in New York City.
Every workplace has busy and slow seasons. Depending on where you work, you might even have to wear multiple hats. To-do lists pile up, email inboxes can get flooded, and, inevitably, you begin to feel overwhelmed. We’re here to teach you a few ways to break through the clutter, banish distractions, knock out overly large to-do lists, and make focus your superpower in the workplace.
1. Stop thinking about how overwhelmed you are
It’s time to chill, take a second, and slow down. Do what you have to do not have a mental breakdown, storm out of the building, or hide yourself in the bathroom until lunchtime. Sometimes, when the to-do list is a mile high, we can easily get caught up on just how massive it is. The thing is, when we spend time wrapped up in our stress or thinking about a massive to-do list, it ends up doing more harm than good. When looking at our responsibilities as a whole, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin.
2. Break it down
If you feel like you’re overwhelmed and not sure where to start, it’s time to get organized. Begin by making lists that divide your tasks by when they need to be done. Trello is a great simple app that allows users to create boards of lists. An example of a way to break your tasks down would be to create a list titled “Today,” “This Week,” “This Month” and “Eventually.” Over time, your tasks will move their way up your list as the items from “Today” get checked off. This is a great and simple way to know what your priorities are as well as things to keep on your radar for the future. If you’re looking for a more in-depth took like this, try Asana. Asana is great for creating tasks with subtasks and even assigning those tasks to team members.
Another extremely helpful app is Google Keep which is especially great if you’re already using G Suite. Google Keep is a great way to make short lists on the go that seamlessly sync between your phone and computer. Create shopping lists while working at your desktop and then close the list and forget about it. It’s out of your head now and you can get back to focussing on work. You can set reminders by date/time OR by location! For example, if you’re out and know that you’re probably going to forget to make that important phone call when you get home (but you’re not sure when you’ll be home) then just add a location reminder so that as soon as you pull in the driveway, you get a reminder to make that call right on your phone. Nifty, right?
3. Clean up your workspace
If you have papers scattered all over your desk and have 1000 tabs open in your internet browser, you are definitely going to feel like you have no idea where to begin. Instead, create a few new folders on your desktop, then create subfolders. Name your files so that they are searchable. Grab a couple of file folders and label those too. Do what you have to to clear your space. The more organized you are, the less you have to remember! Once your place is organized, you’ll be able to look at your lists and know exactly where to begin without getting distracted.
Ever think that the task you’re doing should really be someone’s job? Well, maybe it should be! It’s easy to forget that delegation is even an option when stress sinks in. It can be an especially hard skill to learn for those with a “If you want it done right, do it yourself!” attitude. Instead, try to allow yourself to let go of a couple of small tasks that you can trust someone else to handle and then report back to you once those things are done. You might be pleasantly surprised with how much you can get done in an extra hour.
5. Understand when you’re most productive
By now, you’ve probably figured out whether you’re a morning or night person. In either case, make sure your most difficult task are done when you’re brain is the most engaged. If you take a while to wake up in the morning, then that might be an ok time to go through your email. However, if you’re a morning person who hits their lull by 2 pm, checking emails when you first come into the office might be a big waste of your morning energy.
6. Figure out what distracts you
It can be so frustrating when you know exactly what you need to do before 4:00 pm, but you just can’t get your mind to work for you. For some people, listening to instrumental music helps them focus. Some need absolute silence. Our advice? When you find yourself distracted or unable to focus, try to call out what’s distracting you and remove it. Seems too simple but most of the time we just try to power through distractions which can make us end up taking twice as long to finish one task. If that’s not possible, move yourself. If you’re a social butterfly and love the idea of working near your coworkers but have a hard time getting into a flow when everyone is around, it might be time to buckle down. If you have an important task to do, try to motivate yourself by working first, playing later. Lock yourself in your office until all the difficult parts of the task are complete. When there’s lighter or less demanding work to be done, save those tasks for times when you want to work in a group.
7. Tackle two little things, and then one big thing.
In the moment, smaller tasks tend to get pushed to the back burner because they don’t take much time and can always be done quickly- later. Although it’s easy to procrastinate doing the little things, this could mean that important emails don’t get sent, chains of processes get broken, or even that bigger deadlines get pushed back because little deadlines kept getting pushed back earlier on. In his post “How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the “2-Minute Rule,” James Clear writes,
“Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another […] If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.’
8. No matter how tempting, leave time for free time
When at work, be at work. When at home (or anywhere else) be there. As with delegation, it can be hard to let go of work if you feel overwhelmed. And while your career might have some late nights built in, they shouldn’t be the norm. Having a great work-life balance can actually help you to be productive because your attitude of work will be more positive overall. Outside of work, it’s a great idea to have a creative outlet and hobbies to keep your mental and physical health in check. According to an article by CNBC, “Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.” So if you’re thinking that if you only had a couple more hours in the office, you could get so much more done, it might just be time to head home and get a fresh start tomorrow.
Let us know what focus tips you would add to this list!