Task management overload is now my life

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Nov 03

At this moment, on the Sunday morning that I write this, I have 1,312 emails in my inbox at where I work. Of those, 512 are unread. As I’ve noted before, I’m an advocate for David Allen’s Getting Things Done and one of the principles he has in his methodology is “inbox to zero.” The reason for this principle is because buried in all those 1,312 emails of which 512 are unread are lurking tasks that need doing. Tasks from coworkers, people on my team, and my manager. And if they don’t get done — much less even recognized — the potential for bad things to happen is very high.

I can tell you that those emails contain ticking time bombs; they always have in the past and there is no reason to think otherwise now.

Another principle in Getting Things Done is that a knowledge worker typically needs at least one hour a day just processing inbox stuff (email or otherwise) to stay current. Processing means reading it, evaluating if there is something to do from it, and placing that next action onto an action item list of things to do. Not doing the work if you will, but defining the work.

And since I’m working ten hour days for the last three weeks, I can tell you I don’t have an hour a day to do that processing. On Thursday of last week alone, I received 267 emails on that day. Most I’ve ever seen in one day in my career.

Of course, all of that is accompanied by about 30-hours of meetings per week that I need to attend. And I multi-task (poorly, as all of us do) during every one of them.

So when David talks about having control and perspective about your work and life, I can emphatically say I have neither at the moment. There is nothing in control in my life and I have no perspective. Unless you count recognizing that you are deep in the weeds as perspective.

Just to be clear, I hate being in this state. When there is no perspective and no control, where you are is most often chaos. In chaos, the potential to lose hope is high. The potential to give up is high.

I’ll neither lose hope or give up. One of the good things about having a task management system is that if you “fall off the horse”, or, in my case, get thrown off the horse because of the project, I know how to get back on and re-gain control and perspective. And have the ability to deal with the ambiguity until I can get back.

My next few articles will look at Task Management — the framework for a good task management system, the different approaches to task management, and how to put it together. After all, it looks like I could use some of that advice myself!

What caused you to get overwhelmed with tasks?