Prioritizing Workload and Managing Stress: 3 Approaches from "Getting Things Done"

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Prioritizing workload is essential to navigating today's busy business landscape. Here's a closer look at three approaches for HR leaders and their teams.

Prioritizing workload is an important ingredient to have in your skill set in today's busy, ever-changing work environment. Creating a system that helps you navigate constantly evolving needs and incoming requests is essential. "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity" by author David Allen is the latest in a series of must-read books for HR leaders, and Forbes notes that it remains both a productivity classic and an "entrepreneur's bible."

Here's a closer look at Allen's tips for dealing with changing needs and how to keep on top of prioritizing your workload.

A System Is Only as Good as Its Ability to Adapt

Any approach you adopt to manage your workload and reduce stress is only as useful as its ability to adapt to changing needs. Allen writes, "If you have a list of calls you must make, for example, the minute that list is not totally current with all the calls you need to make, your brain will not trust the system and it will not get relief from its lower level mental tasks." It's important to consistently engage with your system, evaluate it and ensure that it's current. Allen notes this is the only way it can bring you clarity and stability. If you do these things, it can provide three important benefits:

  1. The ability to know that everything you should be focused on is recorded in a centralized spot, so no detail goes missed or deadline is overlooked.
  2. The promise that in any moment you'll have a clear mission or set of prioritized tasks and a way to tackle them.
  3. An adjustable system that can be adapted and updated to make room for new needs at any time.

Take Action on New Requests

Allen advocates an approach to prioritizing your workload that triages each new request as it comes in. By having a centralized capture system, such as a master list or project management system, it's always easy to quickly add something to the queue. He takes it one step further by encouraging users to immediately "do it, delegate it, defer it, or drop it." If something can be done in two minutes, it's quickly addressed. If it can't, you determine whether to:

  1. Drop the item, by letting it go, declining or filing it away for future reference.
  2. Delegating it, such as handing it off to a staff member to complete the task.
  3. Defer it, or scheduling it later or adding it to an appropriate place in your work plan.

Following this type of strategy provides a framework that lets you constantly make decisions in the moment about your changing workload and sets you up for success in evaluating what steps to take next.

The Importance of Evaluating the Bigger Picture

The reality is that even with a system that's effective for staying on top of what you do in the moment, it's critical that you take time to look at the larger picture. Allen writes that your system should be kept up to date, "And it should trigger consistent and appropriate evaluation of your work and life at several horizons." There are a range of strategies for evaluating and prioritizing workloads:

Calendar Reviews

Look at the "hard landscape" of your calendar on a daily and weekly basis. For example, if you have a day fully booked with meetings, that provides clarity on what commitments you can make and take on for that day.

Daily or Weekly Priority Updates

Updating your master list and system can be overwhelming if you don't do it on a regular basis. Falling behind is the first excuse for not using the system. As Allen notes, "If you're like me and most other people, no matter how good your intentions may be, you're going to have the world come at you faster than you can keep up." It can be hard to regroup when you're keeping up with your weekly workload. Schedule a block of time on at least a weekly basis to evaluate your plans and make necessary adjustments. Get clear about what's coming up, capture things that have piled up that you haven't addressed, and update your tasks and calendar to eliminate things that are done.

Periodic Bigger Reviews

The system is designed to help you get more done — and also to free you up for more creativity, bigger thinking and bolder goals. It's also important to periodically schedule reviews to assess how you're doing at a higher level. Are you moving toward your goals? Is there a new idea you need to make room for? Is some area of your life — like health, family or spirituality — crying out for more room on your list? It's often challenging to make time to evaluate your progress in this way, but making it a standard part of your process can help you stay on track and accomplish your goals.

For busy HR leaders, prioritizing workload is an essential part of self-management and enables higher levels of productivity for your team. The system from "Getting Things Done" provides the context to sanely navigate even the most constantly changing landscape.