Three Steps to Handle Task Overload

“Failure to plan is planning to fail.” – Ben Franklin 


Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your task list? Do you feel like there’s too much to get done? I like to plan my days and weeks in advance, but sometimes things will pop up that I’m not expecting. When this happens, overwhelm starts to creep in. I like to use this 3 step process to clear the mental clutter and know what to focus on next. Now, if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy planning your days and weeks in advance. Don’t worry. This process will work for you too. 


Step 1 – Write down everything on your mind.


Some people refer to this as a brain dump. You want to get everything that’s In your head out on paper. So you can start to focus on what’s most important.


Step 2 – Place tasks into four categories.


Dwight Eisenhower was more than a President of the United States. He was a 5-star general and a master at deciding what was most important. He was good at making decisions under pressure because he had a process. His process is now called the Eisenhower method, and it involves using four questions to break down your task list.


Having a decision-making process like this is essential. When you are under stress, your brain can move into what’s called the fight or flight pattern. When this happens, it makes it harder for you to make informed decisions. So having a process to make those choices will help you move forward with ease. 


Click here for a template for using the Eisenhower method (priority quadrant). No email or opt-in required.


Managing Task Overload Part One

Question 1 – What is important and urgent? 

Figure out what is important and what has to be done right away. These are items that truly only you as a leader can work on. These are things that make the most impact on your school and have to be completed in a short amount of time.


Question 2 – What is NOT important, but is urgent? 

Meaning that it has to be done right away, but it is not the most important thing. 


As a leader, look at who around you that you can delegate these tasks to. I will admit this one can be tricky. Also, the use of software is another form of delegation. I’ve been able to automate through software several of my daily tasks. 


Let’s also address the elephant in the room. With more of us working either full-time or part-time from home, things at home can feel urgent. For example, if you have company coming over tonight, that pile of dishes in the sink might be causing you stress. Well, that’s a perfect thing to try and task an older child to do after school. So you can focus on your work. 


Question 3 – What is important but not urgent? 

This category is where the lion’s share of your task list will fall. If you have more than 6 items on your important and urgent list you’ll have to schedule these for another day. I will get to why in Step 3 of this article. However, you can rest easy knowing that those important items are scheduled, and will be handled soon. 


Question 4 – What’s not important and not urgent? 

Let’s face it, many things can fall onto our task list that would be nice to get done. For example, it would be nice if you cleaned out the garage this weekend. However, between working late and social activities, you know you won’t have time. In fact, cleaning the garage probably won’t happen for the next 6 weekends. So that’s the type of thing that you just say this is truly not important and it’s not urgent. You delete those things from your list to keep them from causing you additional stress. 


If you would like a template for using the Eisenhower method (priority quadrant), then click here to get one for free! (No email or opt-in required)


Step 3 – Make a Six List 


Studies have found people can only get 6 major items done in a day. Now I am not talking about:

  1. Wake up
  2. Brush your teeth
  3. Get dressed 


We’re talking about 6 big tasks in your day. To use me as an example those items involve things like: 

  1. Writing this blog post 
  2. Reviewing contracts 
  3. Loading contracts into the CRM 
  4. Writing promotional emails 
  5. Social Media Posts
  6. Answering all of my emails from the day


So if you can only pick 6 items for your day, you must put the most important thing at the top. Do you remember the categories you created in Step 2? Here is where you use that to prioritize and plan your day. Make sure to start with your most important thing.


If you are curious where the Six List comes from, it originated with productivity consultant Ivy Lee. In 1918 Charles Schwab, not the banker but Charles M. Schwab the steel tycoon, wanted to increase productivity with his workers. So he brought in Ivy Lee. Lee spent time with each of the managers and gave them only one suggestion. This suggestion was the Six List. His instructions were as follows:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.


The best part is when they first met, Schwab had asked, “How much is this going to cost me?”


“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”


So three months later Lee meets with Schwab to see how the method worked. Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made he handed Lee a check for $25,000. This sounds like a very handsome sum for that piece of information, but if you factor that with inflation it would be worth $438,538 in 2021. So long story short, I know this method worked for Mr. Schwab, and I know it will work for you too.


If you get only one thing from this blog post, I hope you take Step 3 and apply the Six List Method. I’ve had friends and other business leaders ask me, “Hey what’s the one thing I can do to maximize my time?” This method is the one thing I’ve told them. It worked for Charles Schwab, it’s worked for people I know personally, and I know it will work for you too.

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