How To Get Back On Track

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will probably be aware that my life has been derailed by situations, events and the never-ending house rennovations!

Things like this happen, they rise up like damp and drag all your time, focus and energy until you’re just a dried up husk, a HUSK I say!!  And while you are dealing with these big issues, other things have to be put on hold.  But what happens when you are finally able to get back to those things on hold?

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The Mountain

Let’s be honest, depending on what things have been put on hold – you may have a mountain of stuff waiting for you when you’re finally back on track.  That’s right, the track is now littered with all your chores, errands and projects you’ve had to neglect to deal with other, more pressing things. I don’t know about you, but that is hella overwhelming!

I have a mountain before me right now – a mixture of business requirements (such as sorting tariff codes, completing taxes, catching up on all the paperwork that I had to just put in a messy pile etc), personal requirements (such as buying birthday presents, booking appointments, catching up on messages and emails etc) and anything else that I had to put on the back burner (let’s not even talk about writing stuff!)

So let’s get back to the question – what happens when you get back to those things you had to put on hold?  How are you suppose to deal with the overwhelm of tasks that have been building up quietly while you were off doing more important things?

Collect

In order to avoid the overwhelm wave that is threatening to crash into you, we need to step back, take a breath and create a system.  This helps to keep you organised and also blinkered so you aren’t constantly staring at the whole mess with building dread.

Let’s start with Collect.

Make a note of everything that needs your attention.  After all, you can’t create a working system until you know what the hell will be in that system.

This is where Trello comes in!  If you don’t know what Trello is, or haven’t used it, then check out my article How To Get Crazy Organised With Trello.

Make a Brain Dump list and start adding cards for each task, project, errand etc that needs to be dealt with.  Big or small get it down.

Don’t want to use Trello?  Grab a pad and pen, open a word doc – anything that you can continually fill with notes about what needs to be dealt with.  Don’t try to organise, just get the info down.

Deadlines

Now we are going to go through this list and mark/label/highlight anything that has a deadline – even a “long time off” deadline.  If there is a phone call you need to make, a payment that’s due, a timeframe for a job or a workshop that’s only available on certain days – mark those on.

Colour them, star them, lable them – do something that makes them stand out and also – ADD that deadline date to the item.

Next, grab a calendar and transfer your deadline tasks into the calendar.  If you want to be really organsed – chose a week or 4 days before the date and put in a “reminder” that the task is coming up.  I always do this for things like birthdays – so I know to sort cards/presents in time, I also do it for car and house insurance so I have time to start checking for quotes before the damn thing renews!

Move your deadline tasks into their own Trello list (or excel list or separate page in your notepad). 

Okay, let’s move on to the non-deadline tasks

Group

Go through your list again and start to highlight/mark with a symbol etc any tasks that are similar.  Do you have several calls to make?  Do you need to work on graphics for different projects?  Do you have photos to take for different tasks?

Group these together, yes we are back to “Batching”.  This is where you group “like” tasks together to make it easier to get them done.

If you have a number of errands that involve you leaving the house and driving into town, it’s best if you can arrange to do them all on the same day and plan your route, again it helps to save time and be more efficient.

Like before, move these Grouped tasks onto their own list on Trello (or note page etc).  You can even make a single card for say “Calls” and then create a checklist and add each call with details and the number to the checklist so once you’ve done it, you can just tick it off.

That can work better than having separate cards for each item.  But do what works best for you!  Depending on the type of calls I have to make, I use separate cards so I can add more details specific to that call or make notes on what was decided on.

All The Small Things

Go through your list again (I know this is tedious, but stick with it), we are now looking for small things – quick jobs, especially if they take like 10 mins or less.  You will be surprised how often these small jobs can creep up.  You’d think being a quick job we’d just get them done immediately *laughs* but no, that’s not what usually happens.

So separate out the quick jobs into their own list.  These can be done during dead time.  Small jobs are great, they can be easy enough to get done especially if you are struggling with time, focus or energy.  Having them on their own list means you don’t have to look through a long to-do list trying to find something quick to do.

Maybe you are like me, I find it useful getting a few small, quick tasks done before I start my real work as it sets me up with a sense of accomplishment and gets me in a working head space.

Everything Else

Okay, so your list should be a bit more organised now.  You have your deadlined items in your calendar (maybe with a reminder so nothing creeps up on you… also, make sure you CHECK your calendar otherwise it’s not going to be of use), you have your grouped items separated out so they can be worked on in batches and your small jobs listed.

So now it’s just everything else.  Hopefully, this is more manageable.

Firstly, take each of these tasks and divide them – anything that is a big job, like a full day/weekend or longer tasks need to be moved to their own list.  After all, we don’t always get full days etc to work on things – so you need to book time for yourself to do such tasks.

In order to get these done, especially if they are OOTs, once they are in a separate list – aim for tackling one a month at minimum (or they’ll most likely never get done!)  Schedule them in to your calendar, tell other people that on X day you’ll be busy and remove all distractions on that day.

So what about the tasks that aren’t quick 10 mins jobs, nor are they the big full day/weekend type jobs?  Simple, these stay on the main list.

What you might find useful is noting down against each task the next steps.  What is the next IMMEDIATE step to move this task along?  Even a single task can be overwhelming so by listing out the steps and then focusing on just the NEXT step can help.

For example, I have to complete my business taxes.  So my IMMEDIATE next step is to gather all my paperwork together.  “Complete taxes” can become overwhelming but “Gather papers” well, that’s more manageable.  If I’m feeling up to it, I may list out all the steps (usually in a checklist on the relevant Trello card). 

So anything that has more than one step, make a note of the next steps.  Then when you start tackling these tasks, just think about the next step, not all the things you have to do to complete it.

Take Your Time

Remember, if you have had to put things on the backburner to deal with a situation, then you aren’t just falling back into step.  You are having to “catch up” and things will continue to appear on your list.

For example, I run a business and while it was shut so I could sort the hectic-ness of my life, things regarding Brexit and changes to the platform I sell on etc all came out.  If I had been working, I’d have dealt with each of these as they came up and it wouldn’t have taken much of my time.

However, now I have a backlog of information to sift through and requirements to complete in order to be compliant.  I have to do this while running the day to day tasks of my business right while hitting the busiest time.  So I’m playing catch up.

Stepping back into your routine can mean there is extra to do in order to get back to your “normal”.  The system mentioned above, is to help you corral your requirements so you can start working through the backlog efficiently while still doing your normal routine.

By having things separated out into different lists will help to reduce Decision Fatigue.

Finally, don’t expect to get all caught up fast.  Depending on how long you’ve put things on hold, there could be a lot to get through.  Tackle the up-coming deadlined items first, everything else can wait.

Forgive yourself if there’s still a lot to get done and don’t forget to ask for help – delegate some tasks, get assistance from friends, family even the community online if it’s something they could help with!  It never hurts to ask.

I hope you found this article useful!  If you did, give it a share in case someone else could benefit!

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Do you have a backlog of tasks you’re working on?

Happy writing

Signature & logo of Ari Meghlen

I write articles on writing, marketing, blogging, organising, social media, books and some random stuff.  I also create free printable resources.  If you find my content helpful, entertaining and like what I do, consider supporting me on ko-fi.

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5 thoughts on “How To Get Back On Track

  1. Victoria Zigler

    Excellent tips. I’ve been wading through to-do lists lately, needing to catch up on things I got behind on with all the moving followed by health issues, and have been using a similar process – though just using the notes ap on my phone – to figure out what I need to get done, and then actually get it done. I’m not completely caught up yet, but I’m getting there. Though let’s not talk about how many writing and craft projects I want to get to… I’m not counting those in this, though finishing organizing the craft room so I can actually use my space to work on them is definitely counted in the list of things on my to-do list.

  2. This is excellent advice, Ari! The mountain of things-and-stuff gets so overwhelming, especially when life derails you. Thanks for the reminder that I really do need to revisit my calendar and get a bit more organized.

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