What to Do When You Have Too Much to Do

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It’s very likely that you’re busy. Possibly even too busy, and not just with work, but also with other obligations and commitments. As George Costanza emphasizes in this ”Seinfeld” clip, “Everybody’s busy!” (It’s only twenty-three seconds. Even if you’re busy, you’ve got the time to watch it!)

For some people this busyness is self-imposed. As Tim Kreider put it in a New York Times column, “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.” The image in this article brilliantly captures this state of busyness.

But what if you’re expected to do more with less? Laura Stack, in CNN Opinion, suggests sometimes it’s sufficient to just say "Sorry—I'd love to help out, but I don't have the bandwidth to take that on right now." If that doesn’t work, point out that your workload is overflowing and try to negotiate.

Prioritizing can help you make sure you’re focusing attention where it’s most important. And stop multitasking; focus on one thing at a time and become skilled at concentrating.

Certainly, you’ve heard all that before. Still, you may not realize how much time you spend on apps, Twitter, Facebook, and (fill in your favorite distraction), so turn them off when you’re working.

If you listen to music as you work, select music that helps you be more productive. Web developer Amber Weinberg notes, “Even though I prefer to listen to rock, I’ve found that by turning on some bubble-gum pop or poppy rap music, I actually code faster and am in a better mood.” Another great image in this post, by the way, one I’m sure you can relate to.

Among the many suggestions offered by David Diamond in Fast Company, based on interviews with busy people, are these: When you reach the point of diminishing returns, recharge. Be ruthless with email. Set limits on people who take up too much of your time. Don't be afraid to step back and ask if you're really accomplishing anything.

If you manage employees, Susan David, writing in the Harvard Business Review, suggests you give them the time they need to complete key assignments. Don't let inefficient work practices hijack their workdays. Explain how their tasks benefit individuals, the team, the client, and the organization. Most important, consider what makes life, and not just work, meaningful, and make sure your team members—and you, as well—have time for it.

What are your secrets for coping when you have too much to do?

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Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a writer and speaker who draws from her background in both psychology and IT. Naomi's recent books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions and Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. Naomi is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com.