How to Make Up For Lost Time

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Life happens. Interruptions occur. Things get in the way. Despite our best intentions, most of us have had to deal with backlog in one way or another, but once you have a case of backlog it can start spreading like the plague. The more time you spend trying to catch up on the work that you’ve missed means you’re missing out on even more new work coming your way or worse; you’re so caught up with tasks that need your constant attention that you let your older projects slide until it becomes a bigger problem- you miss a deadline, you let down a colleague, or even lose a client.

The key to dealing with any kind of back log is to figure out a way to deal with your workload as efficiently as possible without getting overwhelmed.

At the beginning of any project, I recommend writing down all the tasks that are involved. The same can be applied to your backlog. Make a list of all your projects that are on your plate.

Working on a project is fruitless if you do not have all the materials or information needed for its completion. Organize all the necessary paperwork, gather your materials, and contact those involved for any additional information you don’t have. It’s better to know exactly what you’re dealing with then discover you’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle while in the middle of a project. If you’re waiting for other people to get back to you on something, accept that this task is temporarily out of your hands and focus on the things that only you control.

Now that you have a better picture of the things you need to work on, prioritize what you need to work on based on urgency. Is a project or colleague at risk if you don’t deliver something on time? Have you made a commitment to something you cannot back out of? Are you responsible for another person’s health, safety or well-being? All of these tasks need your attention first.

Next, see what you can juggle.  Are there tasks that you can delegate to others, such as personal assistants, subordinates, caregivers or secretaries? Is there a co-worker who can pick up that shift or take on that extra work for you? If there’s anything on your list that no longer holds your interest, has no direct benefit to you personally or professionally, or is a commitment that is bigger than you are willing and/or able to take on, consider deleting it.

Finally, decide what you can put off. This is officially your back-log and can only be processed once your other, more urgent tasks are completed. Even if it still seems enormous, you can forge ahead with the confidence that the most important aspects of your life are under control.

Like any other large project, it’s always best to break it down into small chunks. Try breaking down tasks based on category, or action (like “Meeting Notes to Type” or “Reports to Review”). Make room in your schedule for dedicated back-log processing time, paying attention to energy levels throughout the day. If you find yourself procrastinating, make your processing time a special date with yourself and take your work to a coffee shop, or reward yourself with a small gift or special treat. If you’re having trouble finding the time, try and find hidden chunks of time in your schedule to catch up on reading or other easily portable tasks, such as commuting or waiting for a flight.

Making up for lost time and getting down to dealing with your backlog is a task that’s often overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember I did it, and I was the girl who was accused of running a law firm out of her tiny apartment. I shudder to think about the months I spent dealing with all of that backlog, but the sheer amount of space I gained (and the peace of mind it gave me) was well worth the battle.

KBwB-BFlower-50Want more advice on how to deal with workflow? I make it my life’s work to figure out other people work. I share all my ideas on productivity, scheduling and organizing all in the Busy section of my blog.

Do you need to catch up on your clutter? Find out all about how I purged my apartment here, and all the papers I would not recommend getting rid of here. Cleaning out your closet? I did that too.

Still having trouble breaking down your enormous to-do list? Read my suggestions on how to best tackle it here. Or read this post to find out how I re-organized my to-do lists so I could actually get things done.

 

What is a Project Anyway?

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Remember how when we were younger we had to do science projects? I don’t know what they looked like in your school, but in my elementary school each student was expected to submit a project to the school-wide science fair. Every year like clockwork we would line up in the office to collect our white cardboard presentation boards and then we had two weeks to complete a science project- in whichever way we chose to interpret the task. The only requirement was that we had to use the presentation board.

Looking back on it, I loved how we as students had the freedom to explore our own interests and develop a project based on skills that were unique to us. Some kids loved building models of planes, or making exploding rockets because they loved the hands-on experience of creating. I remember working on a colorful project about how rainbows are created, and how light controls the way we see color. Tell me you’re not surprised.

The problem with such a free-form assignment is that it skews your perception of what a project actually is. I used to feel that as long as I was able to give a specific name to a job ( like designing a brochure for my sister), it wasn’t actually a project, it was more like a to-do. What I didn’t realize was that the term “project” didn’t always have to describe some giant, long-term, complicated task like the science projects we used to do in elementary school. Even a job that might appear small or uncomplicated, like baking a cake for your boss’ birthday, is actually a multi-step process that involves things like choosing a recipe, buying ingredients, and cleaning the kitchen- all before you’ve even started to measure out your ingredients. That’s a project too.

I’m not trying to ruin your life by pointing out that simple tasks might actually take more than one step in order to be completed. What I do encourage is adopting the science fair approach, and keeping an open mind when it comes to defining a project. Any action that requires more than one step, more than one person, or more than one resource is a project, no matter how big or small. It’s up to you, however, to interpret how you carry it out, whether it be erupting volcanoes or coloring rainbows.

KBwB-BFlower-50I’d love to hear more about what a project means to you. Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. Maybe we can trade science fair project ideas. For more tips on managing your workflow, click here.

Not going to lie- I was greatly influenced by David Allen and his GTD methodology when writing this post. I don’t know him at all, but I admire his work, and my thoughts about it are totally my own. For more on what he does, click here. If you’re interested, stay tuned to the blog tomorrow when I’ll be talking about his greatest influence on my workflow! See you then. :)

 

Take Control of Your Life with a Command Central Binder

KBB_colorful_calendar_even_closelierHonest-to-goodness, one of the best organizing strategies that I have used in my life has been the implementation of what’s commonly known among the organizing bloggers as the “Command Central Binder”. It has become one of the most important tools in my workflow system and if I didn’t swear by it, I wouldn’t be sharing mine with y’all today.

I have to give credit where credit is due: this is not an original idea. The idea of a Command Central binder was first introduced to me when I started receiving the Simplify 101 newsletter. (I don’t know anyone who works there I swear! I just troll the Internet for organizing resources because I have a serious addiction to that kind of thing.)

The reason why the Command Central binder is so useful that it is a collection tool designed to allow you more control over the various aspects of your life by keeping all information relevant to you stored in one convenient place. At first I struggled with the idea of creating one because it seemed to be geared towards the busy mother looking to manage multiple schedules, papers, records, tasks and other important information in a place that was at her fingertips. And it is that. But it’s also so much more.

I took the concept one step further and realized I could take the basic principles behind the Command Central binder and adopt them to my own workflow needs. I have a section for all of my to-do lists involving some of the personal and professional projects that I’m working on right now and another section that contains my monthly budget and all of my financial worksheets. The sections don’t have to be strictly utilitarian, either. There’s a section in mine that’s simply for all of books I want to read (the ones that aren’t already logged on my Goodreads profile) and yet another section that tracks future projects and wish lists that I’ve appropriately labeled “Wishin’ and Hopin’”

The key to a making a Command Central binder that works for you is to personalize it as much as you possibly can. It took me of years of tweaking my formula to arrive at the sections that worked for me but because I don’t have children I instead used my Command Central binder as a place to keep track of anything that has to do with my personal and professional well-being and growth. Some of the sections included are the ones I’ve described above; there are a few others as well. I’ll spare you the gory details.

Anything that you need to refer to on a constant basis goes here. Any tools to help your routines, schedules and workflow management belong here as well. Use some of my examples or create your own. Consider including: calendars, school lunch menus, extra-curricular and volunteer schedules, account information and passwords, contacts, chore charts, pantry inventories, budgets, wish lists, to-do lists, membership information, someday/maybe tasks…the list is virtually endless. Once you’ve figured out which pieces of information are most relevant to you, make sure they’re organized in a way that’s easy to use. Refer back to your Command Central binder and revise often to meet your changing needs. I hope you find yours as useful as I’ve found mine.

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Have you adopted a Command Central binder into your organizing system? Comment below and share what worked for you. Or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and I’ll try to include it an upcoming post. Still looking for other ways to get organized? Click here to read more about some of the methods I’ve found useful.