If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of work on your desk, use this simple strategy to gather the momentum you need.
Sometimes it’s hardest to focus just when you need your powers of concentration the most. As women business leaders, we have multiple tasks to complete and a seemingly endless supply of competing needs to balance.
The problem can be choosing where to begin.
Studies show that when faced with many choices, people tend to become paralyzed by indecision and make no choice at all.
Columbia University Business School researcher Sheena Iyengar demonstrated this principle by studying the decision-making capacity of 2 groups of people.
One group was given the opportunity to purchase one jar of jam from among 6 varieties. Another group was offered a choice of 24 jams. The study participants who chose from among 6 types of jam were 10 times more likely to make a purchase than those who chose from 24 varieties.
The more manageable choice led directly to significantly higher sales.
Harvard Business Review guest writer, Peter Bregman, offers the following strategy for breaking up long lists of tasks into more manageable categories:
- Take a few moments to write down the tasks you need to accomplish.
- Spend 15 minutes completing the easiest items – quick phone calls, short email responses, etc. Make sure you stop after 15 minutes, and cross out the completed tasks.
- When the initial 15 minutes are up, turn off your phone, close down all windows on your desktop and spend 35 minutes concentrating solely on tackling the most daunting item on your to-do list.
- After you’ve allotted 35 minutes to the hardest task, take a 10 minute break and start the cycle over again by spending 15 minutes taking care of quick-action items.
According to Bregman, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment by getting the smaller items completed. That will provide the momentum you need to tackle the larger items on your agenda.
Next time you feel overwhelmed by a mountain of work in your in-box, try breaking the tasks down into quick-action items and work that requires more focus, and then tackle the items in a systematic way.
You can read more about Bregman’s practical, stress-busting strategy, “A Practical Plan for When You Feel Overwhelmed.”