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9 Ways to Conquer Your Chaotic Workday

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stressed out woman

Working in politics is like being in a war.

Your political fortune depends on daily news and events often outside your control. You could walk into the office on any given workday, as I often did in my previous life as a campaign staffer, to get a call from a reporter inquiring about a sensitive subject.

Within minutes, a relatively quiet workday has become nightmarish. You furiously start multitasking between high priority tasks, political life-or-death interruptions and emergencies that threaten to topple the campaign.

Suddenly you’ve spent the whole day responding to a barrage of negative and often untrue attacks. And you haven’t gotten any real work done.

What do you do when you’ve lost control of your day?

If you’re in the business of putting out fires, work in a high-stress workplace or simply feel overwhelmed on the job, use these nine strategies to help manage the chaos:

1. Prioritize tasks based on your goals and objectives

Not all tasks are created the same. You must determine what your ultimate goal and objective is for the day. Is your job to advocate for a policy, improve turnout for a community event or sell a product or service?

Once you identify the objective of your work that day, it should be easier to identify what should come first.

2. Start with the most important tasks

Determine what’s important and what can wait. Make sure the tasks that you’ve selected for the day are in line with your goals for the day.

Let’s say you’re trying to get the word out for an event in the community. You need to call leaders in the community, craft a flyer to inform people and promote the event through local media. If event logistics aren’t your goal for the day, there’s no reason to coordinate with the center where the event will take place. All you have to do is focus on turnout for today. Nothing else.

3. Say “no” more often

Set a goal of saying “no” three times each day. Say no to tasks that are irrelevant, unimportant or distractions. Sometimes the most difficult person you have to say no to you is yourself.

You have to discipline yourself not to do the first thing that jumps in front of you. Many problems aren’t a crisis; they can wait.

4. Ask for help

You work with a team. People will likely help you, especially if you can show them the project is in their best interests as well.

Sometimes, we tend to be so focused on our projects that we fail to look around to see who’s available, who’s an expert and who can lend a hand to help complete a project. All it may take is asking.

5. Restrict your email access to an allotted time period

It’s easy to spend your entire day emailing. If you leave your email inbox open indefinitely, your whole day will be reactionary.

Each email will introduce a problem or present a new question. Instead of attacking emails as they come in, allot a time period each day to answer them. When finished, close your email for the day. And take email off your phone so you don’t become a professional email replier!

6. Make a game plan for each day, and cross things off

Similar to planning your communication time, spend a few minutes each day to jot down your to-do list. Go over your goals for the day, prioritize your activities and determine what needs to be done.

A to-do list is an effective way to keep track of your tasks for the day. Many basic paper and online tools can help. Find one that works for you. This will help you prioritize the tasks you need to complete that day so you can tackle them one by one.

The process of recording what needs to be completed helps you feel less overwhelmed because you know everything that needs to be done. Crossing these items off will bring you a much-needed sense of joy and celebration.

7. Use the right tools to stay organized

Tools can help you do your job easier and more effectively. For example, online calendars, apps and programs like Teux-Deux, Evernote and other tools can help you stay on task and get your work done.

Taking the time to learn to use a couple of productivity tools can help you get your work done quicker and be more efficient.

8. Visualize the consequences of incompletion

To evaluate the importance of a task that needs to be completed, think about the end result.

What would happen if you don’t complete a particular job today? Will you get fired? Will you miss the deadline? Are others depending on you completing the task? Consider what will happen if you don’t get the job done to weigh the importance of each task.

9. Pause and take a deep breath

Sometimes, you just have to step back and take a deep breath when you feel like you’re drowning in deadlines, to-do lists and uncompleted tasks.

Take a breath and step away from it all momentarily to regroup, rest and get re-energized. Take your rest and lunch breaks to step back from your work for a few minutes.

Do you use any of these above strategies to manage stress when work piles up? What works for you?

Vishnu Subramaniam writes about career, life and spirituality tips for his community of world-changers. For inspiration, sign up to receive weekly posts at www.vishnusvirtues.com.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.modernmom.com/blogs/wendy-irene Wendy Irene

    I definitely do not want to become a professional email replier, lol and really like the idea of setting aside a specific time. I really need to improve on saying no. I keep saying yes to more than I’d like and find myself wondering how I will do it all. Great tips!

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Glad your liked the tips Wendy. Yeah, saying no is hard to do but we usually end up being extremely thankful for having said no:) When we balance the benefits of having said no versus spending hours or days of our time, we usually come out ahead with the ‘say no’ strategy:)

  • Razwana

    Reading and responding to emails only at allotted times has worked wonders for me. I’ve found educating people to know you will not read an email within seconds of receiving it makes this a lot easier, and also takes a bit of time to set up.

    Everyone’s busy, so they do understand.

    Love this advice, Vishnu. And I don’t even work in politics!

    – Razwana

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      haha yes, the advice works for all fields but especially politics and other high-stress jobs:) or high-stress people!! lol

      Glad you set aside time to do email. It’s a real time-saver. Instant email replying is usually a big distraction during the day. Thanks for your comments, Razwana.

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  • http://www.CeciliaHarry.com/ Cecilia Harry

    I think #9 should be #1! It’s amazing how pulling back for even 5 minutes and purposefully resting your brain and thinking about how you will end the day feeling good helps you refocus and gain control.

    I can also identify with Wendy’s comment about not saying no enough. I’m really working on that, and I’m finding that I don’t feel bad when I say no!

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Thanks for your comment Cecilia. Yes, in the craziness of a workday, we have to step back and take a breath or 20 sometimes. The extra oxygen by itself gives us a little bit of relief:) And like you say, gain control and refocus the rest of the day.

      The only way to become better at saying ‘no’ is practicing saying no:) regularly!

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  • http://twitter.com/kulls2 kulls

    Saying no helps .. that too when your colleagues pester you with some important urgent work. Breathing is another good option. Thank you
    http://www.letsnurture.com

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Sometimes you’ve got to say no and sometimes you’ve got to ask for help:) Yes, breathing is good in any situation – especially mindful breathing.

  • cassandrajank

    I find going for a lunchtime run helps me. It’s the only task I find that actually lets my brain focus on something different – everything else I find makes my mind go round and round in circles.

    Caz
    Small Business Consultant
    http://www.goldinvestments.co.uk/main/
    http://www.curtaincaredirect.co.uk/

  • inez

    I study a lot, does not work sometimes I pause, listening to a song, something that makes me feel good!

    frame art

  • http://www.ebog.me/ ebog

    I think to follow this advice is not too difficult, but it really will make you have to change some of their habits.

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