Question to everyone, but especially neurodivergent people:
What do you do to deal with a situation in which there are multiple things that require to be done immediately?
As part of my job, I often get multiple requests at the same time (like, 3-4 things that are supposed to be solved right now all at once). I know the only action I can take is starting from the most urgent one… but how can I tell my brain to stop freezing/panicking, focus on that one thing, and avoid feeling overwhelmed?
Since people keep telling me the order in which they rank the tasks they have to do: That is NOT the part I have issues with! I can establish a priority in the things I have to do!
My question is: How do you stop that voice in your brain that goes “Why are you neglecting X and Y and Z, they are urgent too”? How do you deal with pressure from other people? How do you resist the temptation to jump from one thing to the other, hoping that you can close at least one of them?
@miramarco is it possible for you to close everything down (email, phone, etc) and focus solely on one task at a time? Sometimes that's the only way I can get thru that
@MmeLibertine That’s not always possible, because I might get more urgent requests via mail/chat, or I may need to get in touch with other people to get/share details of the problems I am trying to solve.
And sometimes people walk to my desk and give me another thing to do. Sometimes I tell them I’m already busy, but again, that would mean rejecting a request before even assessing its urgency. And sometimes those requests come from VIPs, so they get the highest priority even if they are BS.
@MmeLibertine Yeah, I get stressed a lot, especially on work trips. At least it does not happen all the time and I get periods of calm. The problem is when multiple, unrelated issues come up at the same time, which is not a rare occurrence.
@miramarco honestly I'm with @Sandrockcstm on this one, you're doing too much. Entirely too much. When I've hit this wall I often take a strong example or three to my boss and make them tell me how to prioritize and accomplish competing demands. Sometimes they don't even realize what's going on. If it looks like you can handle it, and aren't having issues, they'll just let you bust your ass as long as they can make you
@miramarco @MmeLibertine Yikes. This honestly sounds like you're doing the work of 3 people. I don't have any good advice, other than, if you think it's safe to do so, raising a bit of a stink with your boss about the need to hire more people. If they aren't receptive (or you suspect they wouldn't be receptive to that) then I might consider looking for new work, were I in your position.
Sorry I don't have anything concrete :(. That really sucks. Best of luck.
@Sandrockcstm @MmeLibertine It’s complicated. While it’s true that our team is understaffed (and I keep saying that to my managers, plus I am planning to look for new positions), this is not a continuous situation – I do get hours or even days in which nothing happens. It’s the nature of this job: There are moments in which the demand for my work surges, and my brain has a terrible time coping with them.
Anyway, thanks for the good wishes!
@miramarco First, panic.
Then, depending on spoons:
- pick the most important thing and manage the expectations of the stakeholders of the other tasks, or
- pick the task that is the best defined or I feel most confident about
When people overwhelm me with "urgent" requests, I stop being able to prioritise and go with whatever is familiar enough.
Funnily enough, I can handle server outages rather well despite the chaos.
But yeah, I hate when people do that to me.
@miramarco an important distinction: urgent and important are not the same. I've lost count of how many urgent things I've dropped because they were not important (the impact of not doing them is rather low)
@meqif Yes, I try to find a compromise between “most urgent job first” and “quickest job first”.
I guess it’s more a problem of how to shut down that part of my mind that goes “hey, there’s another urgent thing to be done!” while I focus on the first one.
@miramarco oh, I see!
In my case, it seems that my brain shuts up once I know enough details to decide if it'll take long or not.
If it's quick, I usually just stop resisting the urge and take care of the task.
If it takes long, I can usually convince my brain that it's going to be late whether I rush to it or not, so I can give up on delivering that on the specified time frame even before I start working 😂 A little silly but it's effective
@miramarco Hum, sorry for my english and more...
Maybe what is feeling overwhelmed in you is sommething different that what in you is thinking that you should tell your brain stop freezing.
I try to listen what my feelings want me to do as a reply to the needs they are coming from.
It can take practice. Today i hear my feelings/needs almost as fast as my thoughts. When I respond to my needs, I think better of my actions which seem more ok for me and others than when I disregard my feelings.
@francks I totally see that I take a long time acknowledging and addressing my needs. It’s not as quick as my thought processing, and I agree that it’s something that requires practice.
Thank you for answering, it’s a very interesting point of view!
@miramarco Over time, I learnt that the best solution in this situation in general and for all the problems/requests individually is to pick one out of the list and complete it.
Then look at the list again.
If something is urgent enough to warrant interrupting you, the person will find a way to do so.
That hardest about that is the decision function, though.
I "just" had to see myself fail a few times trying to juggle multiple things to not do that anymore.
@miramarco I find it helpful to take the things out of my head.
So, I might write them down in my notebook using a pen, this act helps me remove the task from my brain's list of stuff it needs to worry about remembering.
Reading the other replies, it may also be helpful when someone comes to your desk as you can show them your current list and ask where to put their new request or show your manager.
But yeah, for me I need to make space in my head to focus and this helps.
@miramarco There's this management tool, the Eisenhower decision matrix, which asks you to look at tasks not just by urgency, but also by importance. Some urgent things aren't very important and vice versa. You obviously start with things that are both.
It occasionally helps me bring an order to the tasks in a way that defers the decision to facts established outside of my own head. At the end of the day, it's less important that I get the order exactly right as it is to get...
@miramarco ... started.
It's not so much about this particular tool, as it is about essentially referring to an outside source of information, and the matrix is well enough suited to stand in for that. It does help unblock me.
I can't say that's all or the best thing, it's just tricks to get my mind to focus on the next thing to do rather than the enormity of what lies ahead.
In programming I break things down into testable units I can finish and assemble later.
@miramarco It doesn't reduce the work (sometimes adds to it), but it provides me with some kind of order that I just follow through on.
All of my unblocking is stuff like that, some more effective (some days), some less.
@jens My problem is not finding the right priorities for the tasks – in some way or another, I can already rank them. As I said in my original post, the problem is how to power through a situation in which my brain feels overwhelmed – it’s psychological, not organizational.
Maybe that tool, of which I am already aware, helps you lessen the pressure you feel when dealing with multiple urgent things. It does not have that effect on me, sorry.
@miramarco usually unless i'm specifically told "focus on THIS thing first" i'll just do things in the order i'm told them
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