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What To Do When There’s Too Much To Do: 4 Tips No One Told You Before

Vy Dang
12/3/19 1:05 PM

I know you’ve been through it.

Zoning out in the back-to-back meetings. Frozen thinking process and paralyzed decision making for the next initiatives. We, the folk with the "start-up" badge, have been through it.

With limited resources and time, your to-do lists have a chance of growing longer and longer, then one of these two things happen:

  1. You lose your perspective and waste your time on stuff that don't have high returns - more on that in a bit.
  2. You backlog piles up and you miss the opportunities.

I’d be the first one to confess - I have an ever-growing so-called list “Things that I’ll do someday”, literally. Every single project makes sense and urges to be fixed, like now-now. This marketing tactic, this product feature, this project to better cater to the customers’ needs.

But the thing is, it’s not gonna stop. There are only going to be more and more to do, ever.

And that brings us here today for our authentic, self-made guide on dealing with work overwhelm for startups.

1. Step back. Take a break.

This may sound obvious to some and unpopular to others. While it’s common knowledge to take a break if you are not feeling well, we pretty much subscribe to the well-spread mantra of the startup world that you’ve gotta work it till you drop - hustle and grind and all that.

But research has shown that mental fatigue and lack of rest causes various detrimental effects on your brain. Having insufficient rest makes people more prone to bad decision making, decreased concentration and lowered temper control.

If you are feeling extremely fatigued, try to get a short break during the day or clear out some schedule for a mental pick-me-up. A coffee break, a 3-minute meditation session, or a short walk outside will do.

2. Is it best done right now?

We are all familiar with the Urgent Important Matrix tool for task management, but sometimes it's hard to box things into one category or another. What this approach also doesn't take into consideration, is your available resources.

That is why asking such a question yourself will bring your focus on your present. Is it best to do this important task right now, or later when you know you can better focus? 

If the answer is No, then move on to our next tips. 

3. What are my other options?

Of course with limited resources, we probably don’t have that many options but to DIY. That doesn’t mean you have to take a ton of tasks on your shoulder and lose your perspective in the daily grind.

Automate it

The world we’re doing business and living in today offers vast opportunities to get routine tasks done by the help of technologies. Expense reporting, stationery / grocery shopping, hair / dentist appointments, paying bills, etc.

Calculate how much time it takes you to buy pet food a week, then a month, then a year. It might take more time to automate these tasks in the beginning, but later you’ll save much more time from repeating the same routine.

Delegate it

While it makes sense to share your workload and reap the benefits of collaboration, many of us are still finding it hard to delegate work duties, afraid that people will not do the job as well as you can. Well, that might be true. But over time, they will gradually master the craft if they are given the chance to practice.

Say “No”

Some of us enjoy the sweet taste of always working on the next thing or take much pleasure and pride in the busyness.

Here, slice 15 minutes of my time to have a quick meeting on this idea.

But for some, it just seems impossible to say “No” when it’s your main responsibility to support your employees for decision making.

Basecamp founder, Jason Fried, proposes an alternative: compound time instead of carving it out. Instead of calling four spontaneous so-called 15-min meetings, 1 hour scheduled for the same issue ensures everyone has quality time to address their concerns and truly get on the same page.

So when you are saying “No” now, it guarantees that your colleagues will have your full, undivided attention later.

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