Surviving a Task Explosion

Nuclear Explosion
Photo by tnarik

All of use will have times when our lives suddenly ramp up and we are busier than there are hours in the day. Over at Lifehack, they called it a “task explosion”, and gave 15 Tips For Surviving A Task Explosion.. Explosion is an apt word. I never seem to see it coming, and it always hits me like a ton of bricks when it happens.

Right now I am coming out of the phase. We had a crunch at work, and I was asked to up my work hours by at least 30% for three weeks. Coupled with the start of NaNoWriMo and an online course system that I hope will help me become self-employed, I started drowning under the deluge of to-dos.

From the LifeHack article, here are the four tips I like best, that kept me going:

Know What You’re Prepared to Lead Behind

Filling time with tasks means that some things are not going to get done. Unless you are going to forgo sleeping and eating (a sure recipe for sickness!), you are going to have to give up other things.

What did I leave behind? I left crafting, reading (both online and offline), and gardening behind, as well as keeping up my personal journal.

Shuffle Work

Shuffling work is necessary to get the most out of your energy. The trick is to put blocks of time toward different types of activities.

Alternating 20 minutes of housework with 40 minutes of programming kept my programming in top form and allowed me to keep up with necessary household tasks, while giving myself a “rest” from work.

Useful Laziness

One of the first reactions to task explosions most people have is to give up everything “fun” in the name of “work”. However, the saying “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is very true. It is important to keep some rejuvenating and re-creating activities on your list.

For me, I kept my puzzle books around and played Solitaire twice a day with my nifty new program.

List Everything

Task explosions can seem overwhelming if you don’t have an idea of what needs to be done. The fear of the great unknown can paralyze you; it is one of the key components of David Allen’s GTD system.

Every day I spent 5 minutes doing a brain dump. Everything that was outstanding, both with work and personal, was put down on a list. That way I was confident I wasn’t going to lose track of anything in the midst of the busyness.

Weigh Consequences

Even with all the planning, there are some things you will plan to do that never get done. You must weigh the consequences of the things you are going to leave undone when choosing what to do.

For example, one day I had a list of things I needed to do, and looking at my schedule I knew I wasn’t going to get them all done. It wasn’t a matter of weeding out non-essentials; those had already gone. It was a matter of deciding which of the essentials were not going to be attempted. I had to look at the consequences. I was able to choose that I was going to let the minutes for a committee I am on go for a couple weeks because I knew that the consequences would not be that dire. As far as writing, I will choose NaNoWriMo over blogging if I have to because I have a deadline for NaNoWriMo. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though. :)