“What to do when there is too much to do”, does what it says on the tin. This book, from Laura Stack (a.k.a. The Productivity ProTM) sets out to help people cope with burdensome workloads.
First, as in any self help book there needs to be a problem to solve and sure enough this is set out. People have too much to do. And for the most part it seems to be self-inflicted it seems. Laura sets out a few reasons why we find ourselves in this precarious position,
- Too many options for what to do
- We whole heartedly accept new tasks but nothing gets completed
- We get distracted
- We are indecisive on task handling causing repetition
- We are disorganised
- Lack of direction from management
Doh. I’m with Laura though on this that we do need to take responsibility for our own situation.
Phew, it is not all bad news, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Laura sets out a few strategies on how one should extricate oneself from this deluge of unfinished tasks. I cover them under 4 sections, Workflow, What is the next action?, Information rules and Information handling.
Laura presents a simple 6 step workflow and looking at it you would think it common sense but it does no harm to present the basics. This workflow is basically,
- Determine what to do.
- Schedule time to do it
- Focus your attention one task at a time
- Process new info as it comes
- Close the loop and improve the system
- Manage your capacity
In going through these, support systems are suggested. For example the use of lists, Master List and a subset of those in a daily Hit List. Also, how to apply this workflow to email is reviewed.
What is the next action?
Pretty much word for word what David Allen also asks in his book “Getting Things Done”. In my experience also it is the single minded determined repetition of this which can really help to drive productivity. So, finish one task, great, what is the next one?
Several perspectives are also given on this topic from Laura Stack,
- Task Priorities: She applies priorities to the tasks very much in the same style as Brian Tracy with similar categories.
- Task Deadlines. Self explanatory.
- Account for the time of day when selecting the task. Bit like David Allen’s energy available.
- Delegate where necessary
- Break tasks down into actionable steps. Difficult to know what to physically do on a huge task, but with bite size pieces it can easily be digested and progressed.
Also highlighted is the importance of selecting the correct “Next Action”. This is only possible when one has clarity(you know priorities, lists in place), Discernment(can judge the correct action) and Discipline(self control to execute).
Laura also covered a very important item when covering this topic and it is “What is important?”. She advocates asking some critical questions to really give clarity on the type of work you should be focussing on. For example, “What am I getting paid for?”, “What did the organisation hire me to do?”. Also a good tip to compare the answers with your managers. If there is discrepancy, probably time for a chat.
As with much modern office work there is no shortage of information to handle from emails, requests, supplementary information for tasks etc. To deal with this Laura advocates the 6 Ds. WARNING: A plethora of words all beginning with D is coming your way with a dearth of intervening words beginning with other letters to break it’s merciless onslaught.
- Discard (In GTD = Trash)
- Delegate (In GTD = Delegate)
- Do (In GTD = Do)
- Date (In GTD = Calendar)
- Drawer (In GTD = Reference)
- Deter (In GTD = I don’t see a direct comparison)
As can be seen quite a similar handling as per GTD so anyone familiar GTD will have a sense of déjà vu here.
Some useful tips given on how to get through this as quickly as possible.
- Superglue rule: Pretend the task is stuck to you. You need to do something with it.
- Decisive: Decide immediately what to do with it. Don’t repeat this review
- Start to Finish: Finish what you start!
- 3-Minute Rule: You have 3 minutes to process this task, the clock is ticking…..
- Inbox as a todolist is forbidden
- Organise your work every day
I would say these are good sound tips.
As with many self-help books the key information can usually be summarised in a book the size of a pamphlet. However, nobody will part with a chunk of money for a pamphlet so a lot of filler pages need to be added to fill it out and there is some filler here also. For example, watching your diet, getting sleep etc.
Right, would I recommend to buy this? If you are starting from scratch on trying to find a good way to handle tasks this is a good starting point. If you have already gone down the GTD road, then you may find too much overlapping material so you would not gain as much from this book. Overall, I would say a nice book from Laura with good, common sense approaches that have been outlined clearly and logically.