A to-do list is an amazing thing.
It helps you organize and prioritize, and it (usually) leaves you feeling satisfied at the end of the day when you get to cross off the tasks you’ve completed. It allows you to see the exciting opportunities you have to wear more hats in the workplace, juggle more balls as it relates to project work, and get your hands dirty taking on new and different responsibilities as you become more ingrained in your work.
But as your to-do list grows, so does the challenge it poses. While the list is great for keeping you on task and highlighting the different opportunities you get to take on, it sometimes serves as a tool to feed feelings of anxiety and stress. The challenge: Staying cool, calm and collected in the presence of pressure.
For some, this is second nature. For others, it’s something that needs to be remembered and rehearsed as if it was an art to be mastered. It’s often easy on a good day—the days when everything is going right: when clients or colleagues are agreeing with your advice and perspective, when projects are receiving positive feedback and when you’re chugging through your to-do list and nothing is stopping you.
But what about those times when things aren’t going right? When hard conversations are required, pushback is a constant and your to-do list begs for a month of time when you’ve got two weeks to call it done.
In these times, clients and colleagues still deserve the utmost attention and deadlines remain firm. Regardless of the many factors that play into your day, staying cool, calm and collected in the face of pressure is an important piece of keeping things moving, keeping stakeholders happy and making sure your team still enjoys sitting next to you for eight hours a day.
Set boundaries and own up
Our industry is deadline-driven—and I think it’s safe to say that most industries feel this pressure. When it comes to your to-do list and the assignments you take on, it should be normal for you to be busy. You should be taking on projects that challenge you and pull you out of your comfort zone. You should understand deadlines and project management.
But with these skills, it’s crucial you are transparent with your team about what you feel comfortable handling and what you don’t. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking on everything in an effort to prove your worth, but it’s far more valuable when you admit your plate is full or that a deadline is unrealistic. By owning up to this, projects can be moved to other teammates far before deadlines are missed.
Dust off your project management skills
As communicators, we are constant project managers. We see projects from start to finish, we delegate and we perform.
Perhaps the most important part of our daily jobs is prioritization when managing projects. Just because a project comes in after one already assigned does not mean it should be finished second. Each assignment comes with its unique deadline, process and preferences. Sometimes we have a long lead time, and sometimes we don’t. It’s important we can look at our to-do list and understand which projects take priority and aim to tackle our list one-by-one with this as our focus.
Take things one day at a time
When you have a to-do list that is running off the page, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. By using the prioritization method above, aim to set goals for each day.
Every morning, begin by making a day to-do list, highlighting the top three to five items that need to be finished before signing off for the day. This helps to make your list a little more approachable and allows you to have a daily plan of attack. Not to mention—it’s a great feeling when you scratch the last item off the list at the end of the day.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
I know, I know – easier said than done. As communicators working in the business-to-consumer market, we see a lot of unique situations. We see people at their best—and people at their not-so-best. It’s easy to get swept up when something didn’t go as planned or someone is exerting behavior that isn’t ideal. The thing to remember here, though, is that not everything will go as anticipated and not all projects will be smooth. If it’s minor, take a breath and move on. If it’s major, take a breath and move forward on finding a solution.
By incorporating these practices and tips into my professional approach, I have found that in most situations I’ve been able to keep my cool (yes, you read that right – most – I’m a work in progress). By taking it task-by-task, understanding deadlines and prioritization, setting boundaries and owning up, you’re able to focus on the stuff that actually matters: keeping all of the balls in the air, keeping stakeholders happy and making sure your team still likes to sit next to you.