Stack the work on OR pile the work on is an idiomatic expression meaning to give someone a lot of work to do. So how do you manage a stack of work?
This article explores the evolution of an approach to work I started in 2005.
This approach might save you and your teams a host of time as there is a prebuilt tool at the end of it waiting to go.
Exploring a little psychology along the way this approach to getting through large volumes of work as efficiently as possible.
- A bit of organisation
- Addressing the stack and pile
- Now for my team
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A bit of organisation
The work pile
Work mounts up quickly no matter what role you’re in. A pile by its definition is a heap of things laid or lying one on top of another. By its very definition its unorganised.
I know being disorganised is stressful but I’m not a doctor or psychologist. Dr. Audrey Sherman is though. http://bit.ly/2JbwQdA
Although it appears to be a mundane sort of thing, I find disorganization and chaos to be one of the biggest problems reported by depressed and anxious individuals. Emotional baggage has a way of building up, and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil — as if a tornado had let loose in your brain and your surroundings.
The symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to face the day often stem from not knowing where to start or not wanting to face the mountain of tasks that lay ahead. I have found folks to be so bogged down with even the everyday task of leaving the house on time that their entire day is a mess before they ever get started. By 8 am they are frazzled.
What is worse is that typically if disorganization is a problem at home it is a problem at work as well. A cluttered desk, half finished tasks, and unmet deadlines are the career version of the problem, and are also with you all day.
Does your automobile look like a homeless person’s shopping cart? If so, none of your major environments are peaceful. There is nothing pleasant about your surroundings, and this is a major stressor.
So the primary cause of stress is being disoranised. The solution become organised. However … time… I haven’t got time. Ok, so let’s look at that.
Moving from Piles to Stacks
Step 1. From Memory to History
Write down all the things that need doing. Seems simple and it is. However being the tech that I am… open a spreadsheet and write them in one after the other. A bit long excel list.
Excel for me has one advantage I can move things around easily. So lets go through this process using Excel for a second.
Make a sheet with a heap load of items. Everything you have to do. Next invent category titles for them to group them up.
For my work list… I use the client names. If they’re projects of a type I can group those. Sometimes I have work for different departments to do.
The most important thing here is at the end of the exercise, I can park my brain as I know everything I have to do is in the list.
This is a disposable to do list, so don’t worry too much about it.
Step 2. From piles to stacks
Now for some instant therapy. Click the box to the left of A and above the 1, this will highlight all the cells.
Next click the Sort and Filter and choose “Custom Sort”
1. 2. 3.
Instead of my jobs being a giant pile of chaos, I now have stacks to work on. Groups of tasks for a particular area.
The psychological approach now lets me deal with one particular area and clear that area alone.
It allows me the comfort of knowing I can be completely up to date on one particular project / area / stack.
Even to know I’m up to speed in one area does a number of things.
- Gives me a sense of “safe”. I am safe in this area as I’m totally up to date.
- Allows me to mentally park all of the other projects as I’m focusing on just one stack at a time.
- Reduces my guilt about not getting everything done and my mind wandering. I HAVE to get through this stack.
- Allows me prioritize work areas. Which stack first. I’m managing myself
- Grouping gets me in the zone of that area which reduces the waste of time that is “getting back up to speed in an area”. Let’s get everything in the area done and cleared so I can forget about it for a while.
- I can address the areas I’m weakest at, as there are some piles that require a “peg on the nose” approach.
Step 3. Dumpster diving
“Peg on the nose” refers to having to clear out bins. You need your hands free but the smell is bad. So a peg on the nose is as good as an extra hand.
There are some jobs we all don’t like doing and will go to pains to avoid those jobs.
Often these jobs are the biggest stresses as they’re being avoided.
When I’m prioritising my stack, I’ll take the jobs I hate the most and deal with them first.
This is psychology in action. Dopemine reward mechanisms and you remember how you feel at the end not how you felt at the start. You’re using tactics to motivate yourself.
Addressing the stack and pile
Simply not enough time
When you’ve finished making your pile into stacks you may come to the conclusion there’s too much to do. This introduces management skill number 1, realistic delegation.
Fair enough if you have a team you can delegate, but if it’s just you, that’s not an option.
In security there is a document called the risk register. These are all the things that might go wrong with your business.
More often than not there are too many risks to get covered and you certainly won’t get them all sorted today. Even if the whole company worked on it.
So the expression “within your means” comes up. Some things you will get done, others simply won’t happen.
If you can get others to do the work, then let them… it’ll quickly get some items out of your list.
Triage in medical terms is a quick review to see what’s possible and not possible to do.
You may not be able to delegate, don’t worry… we need to prioritise.
Make a stress list
When you have your stacks you have a decision logic tree to follow
Using gut instinct and as fast as you can…. this has to be instinctual not thought out.
- In column C write on a scale of 1 to 5, how urgent is this. 1 not urgent. 5 needs this yesterday.
- In column D write on a scale of 1 to 5, how much do I hate doing this. 1 I like doing this type of work. 5 I detest this with every fiber of my being.
Now in column E, you add a little mathematical formula. multiply C * D. so in E1, put =C1*D1
Notice in the bottom right of E1 is a strong black square. Click this and drag down and your maths is done all the way down for you.
Without trying hard, you’ve had a system give you advice on job you should do first and are actually most unlikely to do. This is the most stressful job in the list. In fact you now have a stress list.
25 is unacceptable in your life. Find your highest and try get that stack cleared. So in this example, doing my sales stack will make my life better.
You can even sort the excel sheet again, sorting on column E this time to prioritise your work.
Now for my team
Now building systems
You can use Excel, you don’t need anything fancy. With your own challenges in hand, it’s time to consider a pile of work for your team to accomplish.
Let’s say you have 100 people to contact for various reasons and a team to get through them. What if there was a tool to help you. I wrote one which is still used today by numerous businesses.
Load your work items into a spreadsheet. Put column names at the top.
Now…. watch this video. How to turn your worklist into a system, for you or your team to work through and get reporting on it!
The team doesn’t need to decide what to work on next, the system hands them the next one to work on. You control the flow to them using stacks.
Within the reporting of bxp there is a “stack management” engine which allows you to group up and see how many items are in each of your stacks.
When it comes to team stuff, I wrote bxp to remove all my headaches, so I use it.
I hope some of these ideas have been helpful.
If there’s anything in this article you’d like to chat to me about you can contact me here or on social media.