How to Catch Up When You Fall Behind

Every task you scratch off your to-do list is only replaced by three more. Responding to an email only returns two more, both of which make some commitment on your time. There is never enough time to get everything done and, over time, you fall far enough behind that you need to start catching up.

Here is a five-step plan for catching up and getting back on course.

Preventative Measures

The first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging.

Say No to Anything New: We all feel the need to be helpful to others and to be a team player. We agree to join this project or sit on this task group or lead this initiative, even though we agree to give it time we already can’t afford. It is both polite and professional to say no to requests for your time, especially when you are unable to give it the attention it deserves, and more so when that lack of time is going to make the project less than it might have been with someone passionate enough about it to give it their time.

Renegotiate Your Commitments: If you have yes to something you should have said no to, do something about it now. The people you have made commitments to will forgive you if you ask them to allow you to bow out. They have their priorities, and they will almost invariably let you out when you explain that you need time for your most important tasks and projects. If you want to mitigate the fact that they need help, offer to introduce them to someone else who has the time and interest.

Catching Up

Focus on the few things that are most important and work until completed.

Prioritize Your Work: Not all tasks and projects are equal in value to you, to your clients, or your business. Some of that you need to do is much more valuable, especially the ones required for the future results you need. You will never have an empty project or task list, but you can make good decisions about which few things deserve your time and focus. Starting with a simple list on a legal pad, write down what needs to be done first, as well as the next few tasks that should follow your biggest priority.

Schedule Focus Blocks: Put two blocks of 90-minutes on your calendar for the most important outcome you need to produce. Put both of those blocks on the same day, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Block out all distractions, including the phone, email, and especially the internet. Give your full attention to your task for 90 minutes without interruption. Each of the two blocks will feel to you like a good half day’s work, and if you are like most people, you will get more work done than you thought possible.

Work to Completion: Complete the most important thing you need to do before moving on to the next item on your list. Start on the next most important outcomes once you complete the first. Not completing work only creates a greater feeling that you are not getting anything done. Nothing is coming off your list, and it feels like running on a treadmill that speeds up the longer you run. The benefit in this approach is that your most important work gets your time and energy—and it gets done.

If you have fallen behind, these five steps will help you catch up. If you want help, check out

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