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The Mindful Entrepreneur

Dealing With a Mountain of Work

Categories: Organisation - Productivity

young woman drowning in a mountain of papers

Let’s set the scene. You’ve got an almighty, skyscraper sized, stack of work to go through, but you’re not really feeling the love. As it stands, this unreasonably sized pile of work is your enemy. It’s causing you stress, it’s constantly at the back of your mind (and probably the front), but you don’t really know how to tackle it.

The first problem lies in the fact that you’re probably looking at this pile of work as a whole. You may even be considering that it all needs to be done in one fell swoop – this is barely ever the case. What we need to do is break it down into tasks, starting with the most important part. It may help to try and find direction before getting started.

If you haven’t already, it’s also important to try and create a new mindset towards the problem. After all, it’s not your enemy, it’s a way to progress towards your goals and ultimately, it’s your income. Remember, you don’t know how it’s going to pan out, so embrace it positively. You can learn from it and develop along the way. If you remain unconvinced, but you can come up with a way of making your work fun (instead of thinking in or outside the box, remove the box altogether), then do it. With that in mind, let’s move on.

Ease Your Stress

It’s going to be difficult to get through the rest of that work with a load of stress on your mind. You need to let this stress go first and foremost. Acknowledge to yourself that you’re going to tackle this problem as it comes, and then allow the stress to ease away.

OK, You probably already know the items which are most important to do – they’re the ones that were stressing you in the first place. So, the next thing to do is to kill those stresses once and for all. If there is anything that can be tackled in less than half an hour, do it now. Don’t fret about what to do first, just get started on what comes to mind. Do one task and one task only. Do it now.

Done it?… doesn’t that feel better? (it won’t feel better, unless you’ve done it)

The next thing to do is to ease the stress of the larger pieces of work. Assess how long each one will take, whether there’s a deadline and how critical it is (i.e. is it going to help push you get closer to your goals, create a good return or contribute positively – if it’s not, forget it) – write all these things down.

For any tasks with a deadline, it might be a good point to fire off an email to the customer/client/boss waiting on the task, to set their expectations on a completion date. Don’t make your deadline too tight if you can avoid it, give your self as much time as possible, even if that means re-aligning the client’s expectations – people like to me informed, they’re not usually hostile unless you keep them in the dark. Once those emails are gone, put the task(s) out of your mind until you get to it.

That’s another set of stresses off your mind. Now do another task that takes less than 30 minutes… Go!

Getting in the Groove

By now you should hopefully be in a suitable working groove and have enough momentum to carry you forward. Try and get the smaller, important tasks out of the way, one by one, until you can start taking on larger tasks. You may even find that larger tasks are unnecessary after tackling some of the smaller problems. You should also find that what seemed like a mountain of work, is actually a lot smaller and easier than you anticipated – our minds have an incredible way of building things up to much more than they actually are. This can usually be overcome by just getting started on a task, without putting much thought into it – trust your intuition and your gut instincts.

Break it Down

If a larger task feels too big, break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, say you have an instruction guide to write. Rather than starting on the task as a whole, break it down into;

  1. Conduct Research
  2. Create introduction
  3. Create Chapter 1
  4. and so on….

Focus entirely on each task, one at a time, until it is done. Then move on.

Feel free to have breaks in between these tasks, after all, if you’re not mentally in the right place, then you won’t create your best work. It’s best to take a break, put it out of your mind completely, then return when you feel ready.

It’s often good to write down your task structure – although don’t go overboard and start filling your day up with tasks. Focus on the next task, perhaps lay a plan out in your external brain, or on a temporary todo list (or just in a notepad), and crack on.

Positive Mindset

It’s essential to take a positive approach to this work. Don’t think of it as work. Think of it as a means of progressing towards your goals. Enjoy the journey, and if something feels pointless or irrelevant, forget about it. If you need to explain why you haven’t done something to a customer/client and you can justify it, then so be it. It’s better to justify your actions and create a suitable alternative plan, rather than trudging through something that you’re not putting 100% of yourself into.

If you can’t apply a positive mindset to a particular task or problem, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

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About the author: I’m the Founder of Own the Web (aka. Mindful Marketeer), & I’m passionate about helping good causes, local & small businesses grow by bringing clarity to situations. I do this through my work at Own the Web, whilst practising mindfulness & blogging about it here. Other quick facts also include I’m a vegan, an individualist, equality champion & a mindful free thinker. Connect with me on Twitter or Peter Leigh on Google+.