Too Much Work? Here’s How to Handle It

As I mentioned earlier this week, the best way to be productive is to work hard and commit to less. However, it raises an important point, what if the few commitments you do keep simply have too much work? How do you handle it?

I recently had a conversation with Stefan Knapen, a medical student and writer for StudySuccessful.com. He claimed the biggest challenge of medical school was that there was so much of it. Thousands of pages of reading and hundreds of hours of lectures, all needing to be learned.

This situation probably sounds familiar to many students or workers: the problem isn’t any specific task, the volume of work is simply too high.

Omit, Organize, Optimize

In my mind, there are really only three ways you can be more productive when you have a set workload:

  1. You can omit work by removing commitments. Some commitments aren’t strictly necessary, so if you can get out of them at the nearest juncture, you will save your sanity.
  2. You can organize yourself and plan carefully to manage the volume. Know what needs to be done, how much and how you will split it into daily increments.
  3. You can optimize the way you do the tasks themselves so they take less time or energy.

The best places to start are the most obvious. They are usually the biggest wins for the least effort.

Omissions should come first. Eliminating one commitment can be worth the carefully organization or optimization of three.

Organizing should come second. Organizing your entire workload for a year may only take a weekend, to design and 2-3 months to put into practice, but after that you’re set.

Optimizing should come last. Once you’re left with just the essential commitments and you have a plan, then optimizing can help. For students, this might mean learning to take better notes or read faster.

The details of how I accomplish the last two steps are covered deeply in my guide. But I also have a ton of free articles you can read here, here and here.

One quick last note for Learning on Steroids, my program designed to implement rapid learning tactics in your life. The email list has already been getting updates about the program and it will go live on Saturday (but only if you’re on the list).


  • Miguel

    I think the real problem is when you go over the first step and are still left with so much to handle. I am also a medical student and, in defense of Steven, I find that I have a very big problem eliminating anything from my “to learn” list – even the rarest disease can come up one day in the ER and what will I tell the patient then?

    Because of that I’ve given up eliminating and instead focus on organizing (I don’t do much optimizing).

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Miguel,

    Sometimes you can’t omit. I’ll admit that, and in the past I’ve definitely been in that situation. That’s why organizing and eventually optimizing are so important.

    Organizing *can* have a powerful impact on your ability to get work done. Weekly/Daily Goals and other strategies have doubled my productivity from before, even in moments of intense work.

    -Scott

  • http://richardshelmerdine.com/blog/ Richard Shelmerdine

    It’s all Pareto and Parkinsons again. Eliminate, Delegate or Omit tasks that are non essential and set rigorous deadlines for tasks that need to be completed.

  • http://rob-thompson.com Rob

    I tend to employ the ‘4 D’ approach:

    Do, Delegate, Divide or Dump.

    Because you’ve declined please manually add this to your calendar.

    Thanks

    1. ‘Do’ means what it says – sort it out, there and then

    2. ‘Delegate’ means pass it onto someone who can complete this task on your behalf

    3. ‘Divide’ means split large tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces and address these. This is similar to the GTD next action approach.

    4. ‘Dump’ simply means bin the paper, the action or whatever.

    This approach gives you control over what you do, whatever your level at work.

  • http://rob-thompson.com Rob

    I tend to employ the ‘4 D’ approach:

    Do, Delegate, Divide or Dump.

    1. ‘Do’ means what it says – sort it out, there and then

    2. ‘Delegate’ means pass it onto someone who can complete this task on your behalf

    3. ‘Divide’ means split large tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces and address these. This is similar to the GTD next action approach.

    4. ‘Dump’ simply means bin the paper, the action or whatever.

    This approach gives you control over what you do, whatever your level at work.

  • coloful_xjj

    “scott works very long hours~~~”

  • kiki

    hi scott!! I love this blog, these articles have been helpful for me at the start of 2010, i am glad i stumbled upon this really blog with really clever tips

  • Pingback: Daily links Friday, 8 January, 2010 « TaskWriter()

  • http://www.architecture-student.com Jackbid

    Hi Scott,

    Love your blog. You have Popular Posts by Category in your footer, and only one post per page. But I’d request you to provide “Recent Posts” list somewhere in the sidebar or footer. It would really ease navigation to other posts you have written instead of just the popular ones…

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Jackbid,

    Good suggestion. For now, the only way to scroll through posts chronologically is the archives: http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/archives/

    But, I’ll consider adding “recent posts” to the sidebar in the future.

    -Scott

  • Alina

    Interesting.

  • Nancy

    Thank you, I am heading a new project in a hospital and this made my day. I was feeling overwhelmed, but with this helpful advices I am sure I will be successful.