You don’t have to be in a rush to get more done.
There’s a bit of a trend for responding with “SO BUSY” when somebody asks you how you are at work. It’s almost as dull as saying you’re tired; the asker is left wishing they hadn’t asked and feeling a little bit like they should maybe have more on their own plate.
Research suggests (my own research so really, I suggest!) that people who are forever busy and stressed are in fact running round in circles getting not very much done. Busy people tend to move faster, rush, panic and make mistakes. During one particularly busy phase at work I remember trying to do so many things that I kept bumping into door handles and dropping things.
To really get through our to-do lists we need to stop, look and listen to the real demands on us, and continue, slowly.
Doing two Things at Once
We know that humans are rubbish at multitasking. Rather than being able to do two tasks at once, the brain actually has to disengage from one activity to engage in the other. Interestingly humans are actually pretty good at balancing mental and physical tasks simultaneously. For example, we can easily listen to a podcast while we do some cross stitch but activities that require more engagement, driving, for example, demand our full attention. That’s why it’s not a good idea to speak on the phone while you’re behind the wheel.
So when people say with a proud smile and their eyes wide that they’re “SO BUSY” what they’re really saying is: “I’ve not got anything under control, I’m not enjoying this and I’m going to do the same every day until I die because that’s what I think I should be doing.”
There’s a Fool-proof Process
Now take a look at product management. Lots of people talk about crazy busy product managers. But we have a fool-proof, ready-made process to take the pressure off our attempts at multitasking, a prioritised backlog. Prioritisation is the ticket here. Away from the backlog, if we didn’t prioritise what we did day-to-day, we’d try to complete everything and fail miserably at the majority of it. Prioritising activities gives us space to focus on one thing and then the next, and do so with a decent amount of focus.
So what about when everything is top priority and there aren’t enough hours in the day? This is a fallacy. Because prioritisation is a concept rather than a law of nature, we are free to use it how we like. There is only ever so much resource, sometimes that resource is a team of people, but more often than not it’s just you.
There is a best and a worst action for us to take here. The best action is my favourite, JFDI mixed with managing the stakeholder’s expectations. The worst action is to flap, cry, open Instagram, or huff at your desk and make everybody around you feel tense. The most appropriate action in times of panic is to stop, look and listen to the bigger picture, prioritise and continue, slowly.
Once we work slowly and steadily we start to clear the tunnel and the light at the end of it begins to appear.