Stress gauge

The ever-growing TODO list

It’s been a number of weeks now since my last post, although I’ve been trying to blog regularly sometimes it drops down on my list of priorities! I do enjoy blogging, it helps me think about situations outside of the busy work life and often helps me put things in perspective or even see a different perspective. Priorities affect all of us inside and outside of work, we constantly make decisions to do one activity before others, and I know I’ve failed many times at trying to do too many things at once!

Stress has become a popular topic with recent studies and findings presented at tech conferences over the world. We’re talking about stress more which is allowing us to more open about how it affects many of us in the workplace. Stress itself can be good for us in moderation to give us focus, but of course our bodies have their limits. This should motivate us to reduce situations that cause stress levels to be more than we can take. Learning more about our cognitive resources can certainly make a big difference. One area that can raise the stress levels for me is the TODO list – it never seems to get any smaller! Do you ever have those days where you have a list of things to do, you’re looking at the list of things to do, but not doing anything from the list?! I’ve been there…just staring at the list without the ability to start anything…my frustrated mind going into overdrive!

It’s a situation I don’t enjoy and it can be overwhelming, especially when there are urgent tasks. The first difficult part is to recognize you’re in that place, only then can you step back and think about the best way to approach the situation. Without being able to know you’re in that bad place you’ll continue to thrash away multitasking without appreciating how damaging it can be for your health and even the quality of work you’re producing.

Taking a step back and stopping everything doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, but it’s essential. Sometimes I take a break, unless there is a showstopper, get away from my desk and get some fresh air for a few minutes. Taking my mind away from it all gives me a different mindset when I get back to my desk. I then re-evaluate what needs doing and start again. The important target is to finish tasks, half-done work only means you need to come back to it while your TODO list gets longer!

The Lean/Kanban philosophy of “stop starting, start finishing!” doesn’t just apply to agile teams, we can bring it into our daily lives and I recommend doing it! Striking off tasks that are completed feels good right? This is the mindset we need, so it means concentrating on only one task until it’s complete. Force yourself not to start another task until the current one is complete, zone in on it, once you’re in this rhythm you’ll notice the progress you’re making. If you have some quick tasks (under 5 minutes), get them done and out of the way, that can really give you a boost and momentum to keep going! Give yourself a break after completing bigger tasks, this gives your head a chance to reset and be ready for the next challenge!

Having your own personal Kanban board can help, it takes some of the worry out of remembering everything that needs doing, but visualizing the list also helps then prioritizing. It also clearly shows your ‘Work In Progress’, you don’t want to slip back into the multitasking mode.

Of course, being a manager, you get curve balls thrown at you all the time – part of the fun right?! Without being able to absorb these interruptions effectively you might as well be on a constant break! Moving your desk outside usually isn’t an option…nice thought though…in the summer! So be flexible, if you need time to zone in book a meeting room to give you the space to complete those tasks. Above all don’t let your stress levels become too much…no job is worth those risks to your health!






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