Walking to work this morning, in the rain, I was trying to think of something to write for my blog post and the phrase ‘when it rains, it pours’ kept playing over in my mind. For many of us, it really does seem to be the case at work especially that your workload is not a steady flow but a torrential downpour of tasks. You find yourself rushing to finish that presentation for the conference in a couple of days’ time, when a journal review lands in your inbox that you know you can’t say no to. You also have that paper that still needs finishing, portfolio to finish for your Higher Education Academy submission, a million actions to complete from a variety of committee meetings and that’s on top of balancing your ‘day job’ work. If this isn’t enough, home life seems no less hectic. Your kids have such a busy social/hobby/homework demands they could do with their own PA, someone in your extended family isn’t well, you foolishly decided to have some renovation work done to your house and you daren’t open the spare bedroom door for fear of being consumed by the tidal wave of ironing threatening to engulf you. It’s enough to make you feel like dropping all the juggling balls and running in the opposite direction.
So how on earth do you cope with it all? I don’t have the answer to how to get the ideal work life balance but I recently attended an ‘ease the load’ workshop that was organised by our HR staff development team and slowly but surely I’ve been able to turn a few things around which has made a big difference to me.
I thought I was quite an organised person when it came to planning my work. I always had a to do list, in fact I had more than one to do list, often for different projects in different note books. I would work through them and when a list became too messy, I’d rewrite it. But that is where my problem stemmed, I hadn’t realised I wasn’t being efficient in my planning. I was spending more time re-writing my to do lists onto ‘clean’ paper or into a new pad that I was time wasting, convincing myself it was a very important activity and deserved the time. If I didn’t work through the lists, how on earth would I know what I should be doing, right?
The workshop demonstrated a technique for making electronic ‘to do lists’, allowing me to scrap the use of paper notebooks altogether. To find a way to trust my process for recording tasks when they appear to me, whether that be at 3am in bed, or when I pass someone in a corridor, get a new email or when I’m in a committee meeting. One process to record and vitally tag all my tasks, so I can easily filter them by either project or by where/how the task can be completed (e.g. it can show me all the tasks I have to do that involves making a phone call, so when I have 5 minutes with my phone to hand, I can do all those tasks at once). There are loads of different pieces of software you can use, but I’ve settled on Evernote and there is no going back for me. My paper notebooks for to do lists have been thrown in the bin.
I haven’t got it all working perfectly (or else why would I be typing this after midnight?) however I do feel a lot less stressed than I did before I tried it. I trust that everything I need to do is recorded in one place. If nothing else changed, the fact that for someone who used to have 100s if not 1000s of emails in her inbox before the course, now a bad day for me is leaving work with 20 emails in my inbox. Having a clear inbox which now happens regularly is revolutionary to me! You may think it’s sad that I love seeing those ‘we didn’t find anything to show here’ words in my inbox when it happens. But its so less stressful than seeing 1000s in there.
So my question to you is, you might not be able to ease your load by doing fewer things as everything seems important, but really how efficient are you in the way you go about getting those things done?