Your Guide to Reduce Task Overload
Task overload is very simply the act of over-populating your task list or task app. Filling it up to the point that causes you too much stress and means you need to defer a considerable amount of tasks on that list. Task overload is a reality in today’s society.
With apps like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook demanding our attention, combined with the busyness of every day life, and our core responsibilities we can get overwhelmed and dump too many tasks on our lists.
Overload happens when we’re optimistic and saturated with tasks to complete. And it’s a place we’ve all been. Take myself, for example, there’s been plenty of situations where I’ve looked at my task list and released a sigh or little moan (here and there), it’s natural to have this crop up in your day every now and then.
Whilst apps like Todoist, TickTick, Things 3 and more are all powerful units, they currently don’t stop you from overloading your task list, so it becomes harder when using digital task managers sometimes, something we’ll uncover later in this article.
The past 6 months, I’ve not been as stressed thanks to a few principles I picked up from other blogs, videos and people around me that have reduced my need for task overload. Hopefully they help you in today’s overview of how to reduce task overload.
Am I Overloaded with Tasks?
Like many concerns in your life, the first thing to do is acknowledge it as a concern.
Once you’ve respected that task overload is something you might be having an issue with, it’s time to understand in what aspects you are overloaded and how task overload works to get a better understanding to what steps you can take.
These are typical symptoms of task overload
Snowballing Tasks - You’ll notice task overload is an issue if you tend to move more than 25% of your day’s tasks to the next day. This process is called “snowballing” and is documented well by Todoist as a reality in people’s day. This isn’t uncommon and chances are, even if you don’t overload on tasks, that you’ve done it before once or twice in your week.
Stressed by 3:30PM - You feel stressed and low on energy every day at around 3:30PM, assuming you start at 9AM and finish at 5PM. This zapping of energy and the unproductive hour and evening to follow might be a sign that you’ve overloaded yourself with tasks across the day. Naturally, we all feel a sense of stress and tiredness from the day, but a consistent feeling or overload of tasks can contribute hugely to this.
Mountainous list - Your list can vary in the amount of tasks. For one person, 5 tasks might be too many, for others, 25 is just right. It depends on the context of each task and the rate at which we complete (also the job type too). But if you notice your list is growing week on week, you maybe becoming victim to task overload. For important weeks, you may see a rise and fall naturally, but week on week, if it’s progressively growing, you might need to look for task overload.
Accepting and prescribing fixes for overload issues early on will help you out massively.
5 Ways to Reduce Task Overload
Over the last few months, all of these task overload tips have helped me day to day to keep on track with my tasks. Typically, I’ll have between 5 - 10 tasks in my today list inside of Todoist and all of these tips have helped to formulate that list from a list of 15-20 tasks, in which I handled before.
1. The Highlight & Priority List
Stolen from the Make Time, a book by Jake Knapp and JZ that I recently read, you could use something called the highlight. The highlight helps to determine the one task you need to complete during the day. This is a task I must complete.
The highlight was added about a month or so ago, and has really helped me to refine the most important task of the day inside of Todoist. It’s created with a basic label and a clear yellow color option. This normally gets completed in the morning or during your most energetic time but focuses on achievement. If this highlight task is completed, you
2. Piece of Paper (A3/A4)
Very simple, but when task overwhelm steps in, grab a piece of A3 and A4 paper. Task managers can sometimes be too fixed and force you to keep an eye on all the tasks you have running, with no deleting. Start fresh with a piece of paper and write out the most important 3 tasks of the day. And for the rest of the afternoon, use this piece of paper.
It’ll act as your task manager for the day and provide you with the tasks you need to do and avoid you getting worried about the others. Then at the end of the work day, you can then administrate those tasks for another day. Remember, you’ll need to find a longer-term fix to this practice, as creating too many task lists will overwhelm you too.
3. Sub-List for Moving
Creating a sub-task list of all tasks with no due date can be a good way to transfer tasks for later without the commitment of doing it today.
My “Task List” is a static location to add tasks. I use it in two main ways, the first way is when I’m adding new tasks and my “Today” list is too full, I’ll add it to the Task List project. The second way is for planning purposes. Every Thursday, I open the Task List and see what I can do for the week ahead. A bonus, you can add labels to each of these tasks. When time permits you can use filters to find all the tasks that are time-based.
4. Week Review Time
If you don’t already have some time carved out in your week to do some form of week review, whether at work or at home, you should find 20-minutes per week to do so.
From using this habit for the last 3 years, it’s the perfect way to reflect on the week just gone and plot out your priorities for the week ahead. During this session, I’ll plan a full week ahead, tasks, and events, everything. This helps to reduce task overload as during this session I set clear things that need to be done and shortlist any additional tasks into the Task List. Cannot recommend this practice enough, whatever your style.
5. Unnecessary Clippings
Avoid adding unnecessary tasks to the list.
You need to be more intentional about the tasks that you add to the list and avoid adding anything trivial. Something I’ve noticed I do is on a Saturday, add 4-5 items that are on my shopping list from different stores, whereas in most task managers you can add comments or a dropdown of sub-tasks to reduce overload.
You can apply the same to work, like task batching. Creating two tasks for editing a photo could be too much, why not combine it into a bigger task, like “Edit/Upload 2 x Photos” instead? This is a small tweak but can reduce your list by up to 50%.
THINK LONG TERM WITH TASKS
There’s two things you need to go away and do. And they are:
Invest in a Task Manager - We bark on about finding your perfect to-do list app here on the channel a lot. Once you’ve invested in a good one, you’ll find the benefits. One that lasts you years will save you the time moving and help you to get comfortable with the resource before task overload sets in. We created a full course on picking the best task manager this over on Skillshare.
Read about Task Overload - All of the recommendations above are shorter-term not long-term, so making the time to read about task overload from all the voices in the space working in teams will provide you with a sense of perspective that you can adapt to your own task management routine.
At the end of this article, you’ll find some strong advice to adopting positive long term strategies to task overload. We’d recommend having a look.