Your day rarely goes according to your plan. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t finish your tasks on time.
But you’ve tried everything — from scribbling your tasks on sticky notes to using project and program management tools. You end up taking up too much, doing too much, and ultimately, burning out.
Many busy professionals struggle with this, just like you do.
What could you be doing wrong?
You’re probably doing nothing wrong, it’s just that, task management isn’t enough.
In this article, let’s explore how you can up your task management game, plan sustainable work days, and prevent burnout.
Why task management is not enough
It's not that people don't have adaptive and robust task management strategies. Research funded by the US government proves this:
“We propose that the principal problem of task management is not poor prioritization, but the effort it requires and have outlined resources and methods people use that help ensure they are effective at this.”
So, to solve the actual task management problem, you need to take a step back and think outside the box — look closely at how you plan.
Stuck in the planning process
Living in the age of the internet, everyone wants perfection instantly. AKA chasing perfection. Chasing perfection means you're planning for perfection, probably spending too much time logging tasks rather than doing them.
The truth is, most modern task management tools facilitate this state of planning paralysis. They take up a lot of your valuable, productive time from your workday.
The irony is, the desire to build a perfect task management system is the biggest hurdle to task management.
Instead, start small and continue to tweak and improve your task management capabilities with time. As you understand more about your work patterns, you can build a better task management system.
Let’s take a look at what to avoid on your journey to efficiency, to begin with.
Too many tasks and eventual burnout
“I have been saving a lot of time this week, why not add some more tasks to my to-do list?”
Everyone has done this to themselves at some point in a bid to “increase” productivity. You think being busy equals being productive. It’s just what hustle culture makes us believe.
So if you are a high-performer subscribing to this notion of productivity, it could be a bit challenging to solve. As high-performers, it is difficult to break the habit of staying busy and being “productive”.
We’ve already discussed this in the blog, but we cannot emphasize this enough — one of the many values of effective task management is to make time for yourself. If you can do that, it means that your task management methods work.
But all of that will be undone if you continue to add more tasks to your to-do list.
Not to mention, you can burn yourself out. Burnout is a state of complete physical and mental exhaustion when you ask too much of yourself for a long time.
The root cause here is too many demanding tasks on your plate. The faulty task management process shoulders the blame.
Read more: Is your job burning you out?
Distractions and multitasking
Attention is the coin of the realm. And everyone is fighting for it.
Content creators and marketers are forever striving to get the attention of their target audience i.e. you.
And you can’t blame them. It is their job to get your attention. Be it with app notifications, engaging social media posts, or discussions in forums.
Again, just like the two reasons we just discussed, this is another reason why task management is not enough. No matter how well you have created your daily schedule, it won’t work if you get sidetracked a lot.
A common, or rather, more widely accepted form of distraction is multitasking. For instance, many people have way too many tabs open at the same time. They know that it distracts them and they can work on one thing at a time but they can’t check it.
Switching between two or more tasks will ensure that none of them will get completed on time.
So, what should you do? If your task management process doesn’t solve this, what does? Let’s find out.
Task management for sustained productivity
The task management process begins way before you create your daily to-do list of tasks.
It begins when you realize that you have work that needs managing.
Let’s say you have to go to work, buy groceries, attend a webinar, clean your house, review your finances, and go to the gym. If you were to cram them all into one day, you will probably have to work for 18 hours.
That’s what the first step is all about.
1. Set realistic goals
No task management technique or tool will work if you have an endless to-do list.
You need to plan realistic work days.
There are a few ways to ensure you don’t overwork yourself. For instance, many professionals follow a strict work schedule and do not do anything related to work outside that.
Sunsama helps you do that by informing you when your day should ideally end through a simple notification.
You can either shut down your work day then and there, or you can snooze it to finish the task at hand first.
Another effective way is to set a number of ‘work hours’ where you will get things done.
This will prevent you from working too much, particularly when there are too many things on your to-do list.
While adding tasks, add the time you need to complete them.
As you continue to add tasks, the total working hours will be updated automatically.
When it exceeds a threshold (you decide it), you will see a warning as shown below.
Now you can either defer that task to the next day or delete it. The default number of work hours in Sunsama is 8, but you can change it based on your needs.
As a rule of thumb, do the difficult things first. This brings us to the next point.
2. Prioritize your tasks effectively
Let’s talk about something called ‘shallow tasks’. Things like taking out the trash, doing your laundry, and renewing your Netflix subscription fall into this category.
They do not take much time or energy to complete.
But people are more likely to prioritize them higher than they should be.
The reason it happens is simple. Dopamine.
Dopamine is released when you are pursuing a reward. For instance, the excitement you feel while you are about to take a bite of a chocolate bar is because of dopamine.
As these ‘shallow tasks’ are completed quickly, you also get a dopamine hit quickly. This makes it easier for you to keep pursuing them for the next hit, but they don’t make the biggest dents in your to-do list for the day, do they?
Understanding how dopamine works and how it affects your behavior is the first step toward solving this problem. If you find yourself doing this often, a process called dopamine detox will get you back on track.
Although this hurdle is more psychological, Sunsama can help you it more efficiently.
You can label your tasks through ‘Channels’. Channels are just broad categories to classify your tasks.
This will help you tend to the important things in your daily planner first.
You can create as many channels as you can, depending on your requirements.
There is still one more problem. Let’s say you are working on something and are ‘zoned in’. A friend messages you telling you to be ready at 7 pm to go out. You suddenly remember that you have to buy groceries. Now, instead of work, you are thinking about that.
Yes, keeping your phone away can help you avoid such distractions. But, there is more to it.
3. Minimize distractions
Everyone does the basics — keeping their phones away, letting others know beforehand that they will be busy, and working in a calm environment.
But, there are other things that keep distracting you from your work.
The first thing is multiple apps. As teams are becoming cross-functional, the number of tools in an organization’s tech stack keeps increasing, for things like team communication, project collaboration, and so on.
The second thing is upcoming tasks. It will be difficult to write a report, for example, if you are constantly thinking about the presentation due tomorrow.
You can solve both problems with Sunsama.
Bring all your tasks from Jira, Asana, Notion, Trello, and more to Sunsama. This will automatically create your daily to-do list for you.
Apart from saving you time, it will also reduce the number of applications you check on a given day.
To keep yourself focused you can hide the tasks for the rest of the week with the click of a button.
While following the above tips, keep in mind that you aren’t a machine. It is important to take breaks occasionally. If you are particularly busy, dedicate time in your daily schedule to remind yourself to take a break.
4. Set time for leisure
Sustainability is key for efficient task management. If you cannot repeat a day often, chances are it is not sustainable for your physical and mental health in the long run.
You need to add things to your daily to-do list that you look forward to. A leisurely break of 15 minutes for every hour of work will help you relax and get refreshed.
To make this a reality, you need to space two tasks adequately. Sunsama makes it easy by helping you visualize your day. Just drag and drop tasks into your calendar and make room for little breaks through your work day.
Getting stuck in the planning phase and becoming overwhelmed with too many tasks and distractions are some of the things that make effective task management a tall order.
Sunsama can help you work through those roadblocks by:
- Helping you set realistic goals for your workday
- Prioritizing your tasks by categorizing them
- Removing distractions by bringing all your tasks to one place
- Visualizing your workday so you can squeeze in a few breaks
Try Sunsama for free today to enjoy sustainable and productive work days through effective task management.