What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do by Laura Stack


What to Do When There's Too Much to Do by Laura Stack

Read the summary below and get the key insights in just 10 minutes!



[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Productivity expert Laura Stack offers simple, innovative ways to help you enjoy a more productive and meaningful workday. She shows you how to prioritize your workload and create realistic daily, weekly and yearly work schedules by decluttering your files and inbox, identifying what’s really important, streamlining your workload and making more effective decisions. Some of her suggestions pertaining to health and exercise are extremely helpful, but can be found in other advice manuals. Nevertheless, most of her organizational ideas are novel and worth implementing.[/text_block]

In this summary, you will learn

  • How to be more efficient and reduce your workload,
  • How to deal with those who waste your time and
  • How to bring your best self to all you do.


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“The Case for Reduction”

More is not better. You can be successful even if you do less. Studies show that a “60-hour work week results, on average, in a 25% decrease in productivity.” To channel your energy more efficiently, use the six-step “Productivity Workflow Formula”:

1. “Determine What to Do”

Examine your to-do list. If it’s filled with tasks with assorted due dates, it’s probably long and overwhelming. If you’ve thrown in some items you couldn’t say no to doing, your list is probably downright frightening! To decide what stays on your list, estimate your “personal return on investment” – that is, the value you offer your company. Demonstrate that you’ve earned or saved your firm “at least three times your base salary” each year. If you can’t determine a financial value, find a way to show how your company would suffer from your absence. Evaluate each task you do based on your personal value:

  • What tasks are most important? – List your 10 most important responsibilities. Does your list match your boss’s perception of your priorities and value? If the two accounts differ, you are not giving your organization your best efforts.
  • What do you care about?  Retain and follow through on tasks that you must complete by the end of the workday to feel satisfied.
  • Keep tasks that further your goals – “Cut, cut and cut” all items that don’t move you forward. Delegate tasks that don’t benefit you.

Drop time-wasters from your day, such as repeated email checks and Internet visits. Gossip is time consuming and poisons the work environment. Make a “not-to-do list” of tasks you “simply refuse to do.” Prioritize desired items on a “high-impact task list” of today’s work or a “master list” of future work.

2. “Schedule Time to Do It”

Assign a realistic deadline to each task. Do most of your work when you feel focused and energized. Exit meetings that run late or veer off topic. Don’t accept work that should go to someone else; simply refuse such chores in a positive way. Say, “I’d love to but just can’t take that on right now!” or “But please keep me in mind for any further projects.” Be gracious but, when you decline a request, never explain why. Don’t schedule unnecessary meetings. Estimate the hourly salary of everyone who’s coming to a meeting to see if its cost makes financial sense.

3. “Focus Your Attention”

Workers typically waste 28% of their day handling interruptions.

“If one of your tasks properly belongs to someone else, hand it back to them – even if they don’t want it. Your work must come first, so stop being so darn nice.”

  • Discourage your colleagues from chatting near your desk.
  • Play calming music to drown out distracting noise.
  • Limit discussions with co-workers.
  • Excuse yourself from office politics.
  • Come to work on time and take shorter lunch breaks.
  • Don’t multitask.

You waste several seconds each time you move from one chore to another. Those seconds quickly add up to hours of lost time. To avoid procrastination, break big tasks down into smaller jobs and set deadlines for each one. Jot down or voice-record your ideas so you don’t waste time trying to remember them later. Sort ideas into “memory lists” by topics, such as “article ideas, blog topics, birthdays” or “books to read.”

4. “Process New Information”

Reduce the amount of daily data you receive. If you can, have staffers sort your email and delete time-wasters. Unsubscribe from nonproductive mailing lists. If it takes more than 60 seconds to locate an item, consider using the “6-D Information Management System”:

“You should be able to prove you’ve earned or saved the organization at least three times your base salary every single year.”

  1. “Discard” – Don’t keep paper or emails because you think you’ll need them later. Heed the “start-to-finish rule”: scan the data, make any required decisions and act.
  2. “Delegate” – Reassign any item that does not help you advance toward your goals.
  3. “Do” – Act on the item now.
  4. “Date” – If you need to put off a task, assign it a realistic due date.
  5. “Drawer” – File important items that don’t require immediate action.
  6. “Deter” – Stop unwanted messages from coming again.

Process inbox items immediately. Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list or filing system. Instead, make a “tickler file” – a chronological file to check at regular intervals for date-specific reminders, notes and messages. A tickler file is a “rotating annual calendar for paper,” though you can set it up on your computer as well.

5. “Close the Loop”

Be on top of your tasks. Focus on your goals, make your deadlines and transmit information clearly. The president of an automotive parts manufacturing corporation once contacted his finance department to request a cost quote for a talk he planned to give. He wanted a ballpark value, a number that would take only a few minutes to compute. Unfortunately, the staff member misinterpreted the assignment and thought the president needed an accurate quote. He spent hours putting an estimate together. Their misunderstanding wasted time and money. When you speak to your team or to co-workers, be clear and concise.

Micromanagers waste your time. You can’t increase your efficiency if your boss hangs around repeating directions and demanding frequent updates throughout the day. If you can’t move to the purview of a new supervisor or change your boss’s behavior, then confront the boss or consider changing jobs. If all else fails, then do everything a micromanager asks. It’s time consuming, but complying may be the most functional solution. You might try “micromanaging the micromanager.” Bombard your boss with so many details that they finds the interactions unbearable. Anticipate your boss’s needs and provide information before they ask for it. Regardless of which option you choose, protect yourself: Document your encounters with a controlling boss and insist on receiving all directives in writing. These steps will help you defend yourself if a manager tries to blame you for any mishap.

Don’t tolerate time-wasting processes. For example, author Laura Stack had a problem with her smartphone, which would display her email only when the battery was fully charged. She had to charge her phone every night without fail. If she forgot, which inevitably occurred, she would miss important messages the following day. She knew she needed a new phone but wasn’t due an upgrade for a year. If she bought one immediately, she would have to pay top dollar. After missing several crucial messages, Laura decided to bite the bullet and get a new phone. Even though she spent more, she became more efficient and rid her life of a time-wasting and worrisome issue.

6. “Manage Your Capacity”

Your health comes first. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the capacity to work efficiently. When you overwork, your productivity wanes. Set realistic expectations. You’ll perform at your best when you are rested. Take a morning and an afternoon break. Eat often. You might feel light-headed if you go longer than six hours without food. Skipping meals is unhealthy and can cause your blood sugar level to drop. When it’s lunchtime, leave the office. Don’t eat at your desk. Also, savor your big breaks – “weekends, holidays and vacations.” It isn’t enough to sit in front of the television and think about work. To adequately recharge your batteries, leave work behind. Do something you love to do.

Don’t underestimate the regenerative power of sleep. When you lack sleep, you are “basically slamming a wrecking ball through your energy levels.” Sleep resets your natural circadian rhythms on a daily basis. The brain’s hypothalamus, which regulates these rhythms, is in charge of your physical status, “energy, activity and how you feel.” Researchers who studied 500 million Twitter messages found that, regardless of where people live, the messages they post during the mornings and evenings tend to be more upbeat; those they submit during the afternoon or at night are far less positive. Researchers say that poor sleep habits cause these emotional changes.

If you adhere to Ben Franklin’s wise words, “Early to bed, early to rise,” you’ll stay on the right track. An early bedtime helps you “supercharge your adrenal glands,” which produce adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA. Cortisol wakes you up, and DHEA calms you down. The more sleep you get, the greater the amount of DHEA your body produces. If you stay up late, rest by sleeping late the following morning. To sleep better, follow these guidelines:

  • “Control the thermostat” – Keep your bedroom between 68˚F and 72˚F [20˚C-22˚C].
  • “Shut out the snoring” – If your bedmate snores, get earplugs.
  • “Take a power nap” – According to a study in Nature Neuroscience, a daytime nap of an hour or less can improve your performance afterward.
  • “Keep your bedroom sleep-related” – Do your work, texting and computer tasks in another part of your home – never in your bed.

Eat healthy. Weighing too much will cut your energy. To eat less so you work more effectively throughout your day, follow these tips:

  • “Put only two things at a time on your plate” – According to experts at Cornell University, individuals who only took “two items at a time” consumed 21% less food.
  • “Cut 500 calories per day out of your diet” – It takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the “‘I’m stuffed’ signal.” Slow down as you eat or build a break into your meal. For example, go to one eatery for your main course and another restaurant for dessert. Chances are, your appetite will drop by the time you get to the next location, and you will order a smaller treat.
  • “Eat a salad before your meal” – Experts at Penn State say folks who eat salad first lower their caloric intake by 12%.
  • “Change your dinnerware to reflect correct portions” – Eat your meals on a smaller plate. You will take smaller portions and think twice before getting more.
  • “Automatically ask for a box” – When you eat out, ask your waiter to pack up a portion of your food as soon as it comes to the table. Don’t wait until the end of the meal. If you want to split your meal with a friend, have the waiter divide the portions onto separate plates before bringing the meal to your table.
  • “Always eat your morning meal” – Don’t forget to eat breakfast. Skipping meals interrupts your body’s “steady flow of glucose.”

Be active. If you move less, you will have less energy.

  • A 10-minute energetic walk revs up your engine and keeps your energy up for a couple of hours.
  • To pack more physical activity into your day, park further away from work and walk.
  • Take a stroll at lunchtime.
  • Don’t message co-workers; walk to their offices.
  • Walk back and forth when using a speakerphone; pace as you talk on your cellphone.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Invite your family to walk with you after supper.
  • Watch your favorite television program while you use a treadmill or stationary bicycle.
  • Use the copier or bathroom on another floor of your office building and take the stairs.
  • If you take a subway to work, trot up and down every staircase – never walk.
  • Don’t use the moving walkway at the airport.

To bring more joy to your life, take these measures:

  • “Make empowered choices” – Eeyore, the mopey donkey in the Winnie the Pooh series, always saw the dark side of life. His glass was permanently half empty. On the other hand, Tigger, another Winnie the Pooh character, bounced around with zest for life. Be like Tigger. Stop thinking that bad things happen only to you. The choices you make can change the direction of your life. Hang around with folks who have positive attitudes.
  • “Spend more time with your family” – When you spend time with those you love, you recharge your energy level. This quality time is a “balm for your soul.”
  • “Do something nice for someone” – Benefit from the “helper’s high.” When you act kindly toward someone else, your body circulates mood-lifting endorphins.


About the Author

[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Laura Stack, head of The Productivity Pro, is a keynote speaker and author of Leave the Office Earlier, Find More Time, and three other books.[/text_block]
[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Get key insights from 15,000+ non-fiction books at GetAbstract.com.[/text_block]