Everyone I know complains about being too busy at work. Whether it's meetings or a long to-do list, nobody seems to believe they can possibly do everything expected of them.
I don't think we're all that busy. I think it's poor time management, not high expectations, that make us feel overwhelmed.
I've got a lot going on at work. I manage a team that spans two departments and get creative work done around meetings, employee requests, and special projects. But I leave the office after eight hours every day, I meet deadlines, and I set work aside on the weekends.
These moves help me get work done without feeling overwhelmed:
1. Be notification averse.
A push notification makes something feel urgent. Most are not urgent. All those alerts on your phone or desktop pull your attention in a dozen directions and make you feel busier than you probably are.
The default for most apps is to ping you in email, on your desktop, on your phone and within the app with the same information. What a waste of your brain space.
Every time you set up an account with a new tool meant to aid your productivity, go straight to the notifications to turn off everything you don't need. For most work tools, I get by with just in-app notifications. It lets me block time to work through correspondence and requests instead of working on each as it comes in.
2. Schedule time for productivity.
My calendar has a daily recurring event for three hours each morning just called "Working." That's my time for editing, strategy, building processes -- all those things that actually make up my job that are so easily shoved aside for meetings and management duties.
You have time for this. You just have to claim it. Block off the most productive and least disruptive time in your calendar. Protect your time, and ask coworkers to schedule meetings outside of those blocks. I've even asked to have recurring meetings moved to a different time or day to free my mornings for work.
3. Clump your meetings so they can't go long.
To avoid unproductive meetings that linger past their scheduled time, schedule your meetings back-to-back. When you walk into one, let the group know you've got a hard stop, and hold everyone accountable to keeping time.
I recommend enforcing a hard stop on meetings out of respect for everyone's time, whether you've got another engagement or not. But another meeting gives you a good excuse, in case you don't feel emboldened to make that request.
Another tip: Schedule meeting prep time before a clump of meetings so you can go in prepared.
4. Create email folders and filters.
A packed inbox is overwhelming. You could spend hours each day sifting through everything you receive, responding, and completing requested tasks.
I've been using Gmail for my work and personal email for about 10 years. Of these Gmail hacks I use and recommend, the simplest is to use labels (or "folders") and automated filters to keep non-urgent stuff like newsletters and notifications out of your inbox.
5. Cancel meetings.
Ahhh. That phrase has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
How many recurring meetings do you sit through simply because they're on the calendar? Stop that. If you run a meeting, and you have nothing to cover, cancel it. If it's not your meeting, reach out to the host ahead of time to ask what will be covered and confirm the meeting needs to happen.
You'll be everyone's best friend if you suggest canceling a pointless meeting.
6. Delegate (even if you're not a manager).
It's easy to suggest delegating if you've got a team to delegate to. But you can do it even if you don't have direct reports. Keep an eye out for a mounting workload, and ask for help when it's more than you can handle.
7. Define the important tasks.
When you look at your to-do list each week, circle one to three things that have to be done by the end of the week. Those are your important tasks, so prioritize them when you inevitably find yourself choosing what you can actually get done this week.
8. Know when minimum viable effort is OK.
I know you're probably an overachiever, a perfectionist, a self-proclaimed Type-A personality. In a busy workplace, those traits really just mean "time waster." Don't do unnecessary work on one project to the detriment of everything else on your list.
Learn the difference between tasks that require the best you've got and those that just need to be good enough. Sorry to get mathematical, but 110 percent isn't a real thing; you're going to max out at 100. Preserve your time and energy to fortify your 100 percent, and give the bulk of it to the work that matters most.