Overwhelmed with work?  Treat your to-do list as if you were going on holiday...

By Karen Amos

Is your workload stressing you out right now?

If so, I’d say you’re in good company.  So many people are saying they’ve too much to do and not enough time to do it in.  On top of this, there’s the added pressure of the summer holidays.  Of course, this is doubly significant for those working in education with end of term looming – but it also applies to anyone who has a break booked, but doubts whether they’ll make it in one piece due to the amount tasks they’re facing.

So before we look at what we can do to manage this, let’s do a quick reality check (Magic wands and wishful thinking are very nice, but some things are just fact – albeit slightly uncomfortable ones!).

FACT #1 – There will always be too much work and too many things to do in any given day, week, month, eternity…

FACT #2 – No matter how motivated, or how good your intentions are, you only have a finite amount of energy.  (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are not a robot!)

FACT #3 – Much of the pressure we feel is artificially created.  It comes from other people, or worse still ‘systems’ and cultures, that we leave unquestioned.

FACT #4 – The more tired and stressed you get, the more ineffective and unproductive you become.

OK, so that’s all the doom and gloom stuff, but does that mean we’re all destined for a life of unproductivity and angst?  Absolutely not!  And the good news is that so much more is in your control than you may believe.

This is why I believe we should take the ‘One week to my holidays’ approach to managing our workload…

So here’s how it usually goes over your last 5 working days:

Day 5 – You’re full of good intentions about how you will clear all those pesky jobs that have lurked on your to-do list all year.  That way you can go on holiday with a clear conscience, self-congratulating at all the amazing work you’ve smashed this week…

Day 4 – You’ve tripled the length of said to-do list, but haven’t actually done a single thing, other than fire-fighting more tasks that weren’t even on there.

Day 3 – You realise that half of these tasks will take at least a week each, so decide to put them off until after your holidays (or even next year!).

Day 2 – You’ve ditched 80% of your original tasks and are now prioritising the the things that will cause disaster/mayhem/get you the sack if you don’t do them…

Final working day – You’re ditching tasks from that list with abandon (many of which will never find their way back onto it, even though you were convinced were non-negotiables three days ago).  You’re becoming slightly delirious and demob-happy and start doing the bare bones of what’s needed and seem to have forgotten about your perfectionist tendencies after all…

Sound familiar?  I know it well!

So if those tasks were so important in the first place, why do some become more negotiable/optional the more time-pressures exert themselves?

Usually it’s because they actually weren’t so important.  They were wishes, they were unplanned and they were good intentions (and we all know what the road to hell is paved with…).

That’s why we should be grateful for that last-minute panic before our holidays.  It helps us shine a light on what’s really important and also what our day is actually filled with.

Here are some coaching questions to help you see your workload in a new light:

1. Realistically, how long will these tasks take me with no distractions?

2. What would I advise the people I line manage if they presented me with this to-do list?

3. What needs to change in order to achieve the more strategic stuff, or the things that will make a difference?

4. What 3 things can I put in place quickly and easily to cut out distractions and fire-fighting?

5. Who are the key people around me who can help me with this?

Hopefully, you’re now able to give yourself permission to take a fresh view of that never-ending to-do list and have a wonderful, restorative holiday!

If you’d like to find out more about our training courses and programmes on time-management, work-life balance and wellbeing please get in touch.  We also offer individual and team coaching on leadership and performance matters.  

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Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports leaders and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.