#1: Change Your Scenery
Here’s a bit of an unconventional move that might just surprise you with its effectiveness – take a breather from your office or workspace. It could be a quick trip to the bathroom, a leisurely stroll around the block, or a few moments outdoors with your furry friend. Surprisingly, this change of scenery can work wonders.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve got a ton of tasks staring me down, and you want me to take a frikkin’ walk?!” Yep, that’s the idea! The goal is to gain some perspective. Step back for a moment and assess the situation objectively. Is it a Do-or-Die situation or were those due dates just guesses that happened to be incorrect?
If you’re like me, you’ll probably realize that what seemed like an overwhelming mountain of work is more like a manageable hill. I have yet to have a due date in my task
manager that equated to life or death, so a Life-or-Death response isn’t necessary. (For a deeper dive into this strategy and its impact, check out the corresponding section in the video at timestamp 01:35.)
#2: Negotiate What, Who, then When
Now, it’s time to negotiate on What, Who, and, last but definitely not least, When. And, yes, the order here matters. Let’s go through each phase.
Step 1: Trim the Scope (What)
The first element of negotiation is the scope (also known as “What”). Is there anything on your to-do list that you can eliminate?
This is also the perfect moment to sift through your list and spot any entries that are just ideas disguised as tasks. Ask yourself, are these really tasks (aka things you can commit to doing right now)?
If not, let them gracefully slide back into the realm of “nice-to-have ideas” on an ideas backlog
Step 2: Question the Doer (Who)
Once you’ve streamlined the scope, it’s time to play the “Who” card. Does every single thing on that list need your personal touch? Ask and decide: could your assistant, a team member, or your manager lend a hand?
Step 3: Carefully Adjust Dates (When)
When all else fails, are there any tasks that can easily be rescheduled without negative side effects? The easy wins here are usually routine tasks. (If it’s a regular thing you do, it might not need your attention today.)
To fully explore this strategy, pop over to the video at timestamp 02:58.
#3: Communicate to Adjust Expectations
It’s time to update your collaborators on what’s happening. A project delay is a problem, but a project delay that’s a surprise to the team? That’s a BIG problem.
Communicate early and often about what’s unfolding in your workload. Maybe your workplace vibe isn’t all about asking for help directly – that’s okay. A simple heads-up about the situation goes a long way. Consider a message like:
“Hi ____! This task fell behind because I spent too much time yesterday processing testimonials. Feeling a bit stressed, but I’m regrouping now to ensure the real priorities are completed on time. Currently reviewing all assignments to identify the crucial Tasks. No response needed, just keeping you in the loop. I’ll share more info soon.”
Beyond preventing secrecy from amplifying problems, sometimes those messages might even result in a helping hand from a team member who has a bit of extra time in their day.
(For more tips for streamlining difficult team communications, check out this video on our C.A.R.S. framework.
Remember: Personal task management is just one process in your business. If you’d like to systemize all of the others, watch my free The Blueprint training.
#4: Decide to Chase Momentum
Now, it’s time for action. Our goal here is to pick a task (or type of task) and take action! For me, I find it’s easiest to do this by viewing my tasks in four mental categories:
High Energy, High Willpower:
- Tasks that require a significant effort and high determination. These could be creatively challenging or physically demanding tasks.
High Energy, Low Willpower:
- Tasks that demand a lot of effort but don’t necessarily require a strong willpower. It could be something that’s enjoyable or doesn’t need intense focus.
Low Energy, High Willpower:
- Tasks that may not need a lot of physical effort but require a strong willpower, perhaps because they are challenging or less enjoyable.
Low Energy, Low Willpower:
- Tasks that are relatively easy and don’t demand much effort or willpower. These are the ones you can do mindlessly or while multitasking.
I like to pick one of these quadrants and shortlist any tasks that fall into the category that best suits my mood. The goal is to regain control, stop overthinking, and dive into action. By starting with something small, you can chip away at the overdue tasks, turning that overwhelming list into a manageable one.
#5 Reschedule and Communicate Again
Okay, in our last strategy you were committed to completing one solid block of work. Now, take a 10 to 15-minute planning breather. Glance at the remaining tasks.
Remember: It’s just stuff, no reason to stress. Assess your progress objectively.
Ask yourself: At this pace, is finishing the rest of the tasks possible today?
If not, it’s time to prioritize even more ruthlessly. (A prioritization matrix for your role
makes this much easier!) Identify the most important tasks.
For the rest, reschedule them to a date that is more realistic. Each time you move a due date, make a comment or note to hold yourself accountable. You might write:
“Hi Team! Shifting this task to prioritize [this other category of work]. If you need me to re-prioritize this, please just let me know! Doing my best based on current knowledge. Thanks for understanding!”
This strategy resets expectations, communicates priorities transparently, and fosters collaboration.
Speaking of expectations… the remaining proactive tips in this blog are all about how to better set due dates to prevent these kinds of issues in the future. If you’re already behind on due dates, feel free to skip these!
#6: Build in Buffer Time
For our first proactive tip in this blog, it’s time we talk about building a buffer! This means whenever you estimate a project or deadline you purposefully overestimate how long a project will take to leave space for the unexpected. While you can implement a 10-100% buffer, depending on your experience and project complexity, 20% is usually a good starting point.
Planning with a buffer is simple: If you think a project will take one week but would like to have a 50% buffer, plan for a week and a half!
We’re implementing a 20% buffer, team-wide, at ProcessDriven right now. For real-time updates on how this practice unfolds at ProcessDriven, check out my LinkedIn post here! Follow and join the discussion
on making buffer time a team-wide practice. 🕰️🛠️
#7: Make “Promise-Keeper” Your Identity
Deadlines are promises to your future self and teammates. Want to make sure you keep your promises? Then, today, decide you’ll keep promises. It’s that simple!
As I share in the video, I’ve chosen to make meeting deadlines a part of my identity. This mindset forces me to consider if the deadline I’m about to set truly makes sense and if it’s a commitment I genuinely want to uphold daily. This means making fewer promises, but, when you do agree to something, it has value to you.
You can watch this full section at 19:14 in the video above!
#8: Mistakes Mean Failing Forward
What happens if, despite your best efforts, you miss a due date? Instead of dwelling on errors, I believe in establishing a process for corrective action. Use the energy typically spent on self-blame towards proactive measures!
For example, let’s say you promised to go to the gym at 5AM but, somehow, you definitely didn’t wake up on time. Yikes! Rather than beat yourself up, learn from the experience by buying a secondary alarm clock.
Every failure isn’t actually a failure; It’s an opportunity for growth so your process for personal productivity is even more flawless in the future!
#9: Get Paid to Build this Skill
If you’re serious about improving your relationship with deadlines and work commitments, I have an unconventional suggestion for you: choose a job that will pay you as you master it!
Employment in a traditional, in-person, and synchronous work environment is a fantastic opportunity for observing how others manage work– even when the odds seem stacked. By contrast, remote teams where you’re largely working autonomously will do little to help you in this area.
You can watch my full rant on this topic at 22:23 in the video above. 👀
Managing Your Personal Task List is a Skill (That You Will Improve!)
Managing your promises to your future self and teammates (aka deadlines) is an art, not a science. In this article, I’ve shared some strategies that work based on personal experience. You might find other tips that work better for you, your brain, and your process.
What matters is that, when faced with overdue tasks, we’re just faced with a situation.
It’s our choice to decide how we’d like to respond to that situation, and strategies like these may help you retain a sense of control.
If you’d like to build out strategies to improve other
processes in your operation, be sure to watch my free The Blueprint
Thanks for sticking around for this long-ish read, and remember, until next time, to enjoy the process!