5 Ways to Stop Falling Behind
Even people who are experts in their fields and very skilled at their jobs can sometimes find themselves falling behind in their work. That can happen when an emergency arises that must be addressed immediately (thus throwing other projects’ schedules out of whack), for example, or when people have more commitments than they can handle. Whatever the cause, once people fall behind, they often don’t know how to get out of a hole that gets deeper by the day.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, though! The best way to avoid this situation is of course not to fall behind in the first place. But when that’s unavoidable and you find yourself stuck in that hole, these five strategies can help you climb out of it.
Eat a frog.
This advice comes from a well-known quotation of unknown origin (it’s most often falsely attributed to Mark Twain):
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.
Here, the frog is a metaphor for any difficult or unpleasant task that you really do not want to do. It’s human nature to avoid those sorts of tasks as much as possible. The problem with that approach is that moving the “frog” to the back burner doesn’t make it go away: it’s still around— and it still requires your attention. (And it’s also possible that the longer that frog sticks around, the bigger it gets!) So do yourself a favor and deal with your frogs as soon as you encounter them, no matter how much you’d rather do something else instead.
Learn how to say no.
It’s okay to say no to taking on additional tasks that lie outside of your scope of responsibilities or that would prevent you from fulfilling the commitments you already have. Keep in mind these words of wisdom from author Adam Grant: “Saying no frees you up to say yes when it matters most.”
Block out distractions.
One way to boost our willpower and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them
Help yourself focus on the task at hand by addressing distractions that could shift your attention elsewhere. Some examples:
- Social media and e-mail alerts are some of the biggest culprits in this department, so when you really need to concentrate on something, consider turning off your notifications for a bit (and if you aren’t good at resisting the temptation to pick up your phone every five minutes, tuck it into a drawer).
- Not only is office gossip a time sink and an attention hog, but it can also damage you professionally and socially, so do your best to avoid it completely.
- Mitigate the distracting effects of excess noise (which is especially rampant on the open office plans that are so common today) by wearing headphones to listen to whatever music, podcast, or white noise helps your focus.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Sometimes the best way to get yourself out of a hole is to ask someone to throw down a rope and help you haul yourself up. Don’t let a stubborn “I must do this all by myself” attitude limit your ability to get your work done. It’s okay to ask for help.
Everyone likes to put “I’m great at multitasking” on their resumes, but that statement holds true for very few people. People who juggle multiple tasks simultaneously are not as productive as they would be if they tackled each individually, and “shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.” Rather than divide your attention among multiple tasks and take longer to complete them—and possibly see the quality of your work suffer, too— put all of your focus onto one task, complete it to the best of your ability, then shift your full attention to the next task.
Each of these strategies is a time-tested piece of good advice. Some of them might be just what you need; others might not work at all in your workplace. Take a close look at the specifics of your situation and take the actions that seem appropriate. Whatever you do, though, start taking steps now to get caught up.