How to manage supporting tasks without having them consume your day

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Does “little stuff,” like rounding up hockey gear, or booking doctor’s appointments, end up taking your whole day? Here’s how to manage supporting tasks so they’ll take up less of your time…

By Ann Gomez

Many busy people will tell me they could easily spend their entire day (or week) doing email. Or following up on requests. Or completing other disparate tasks. We all have a myriad of tasks that are important – but not directly tied to our core priorities, such as writing. I call these your supporting tasks.

We offer support to our peers. We network within our neighbourhoods and communities. And our cats won’t book their own vet appointments.

Yet, as we all know, too many of these random tasks leave us with a yucky aftertaste. These quick tasks might taste good going down. Look at how productive we are! But they leave us with a stomachache when we realize how little progress we’ve made on our core priorities.

So, what is the solution? How do we learn how to manage our supporting tasks without having them consume our time? I recommend the 3D Approach.

Dedicate time

We all need to spend at least part of our day attending to supporting tasks. But we don’t want these tasks to overtake the time we spend on our core priorities.

I recommend you pay yourself first by blocking time for your core priorities before supporting tasks fill your day. This strategy is akin to filling up on vegetables before the dessert tray comes around. Then, you can process your supporting tasks in the pockets of time between focused work. Focused work is when you spend time on your core priorities. Decide upfront how much time you want to dedicate to core priorities versus supporting tasks. And while your supporting tasks will always demand more of your time, you are best served by creating clear boundaries around the time you need to dedicate to them.  The exact amount of time you should spend on your supporting tasks will vary according to your role.

Do it now

When you encounter a supporting task, it’s ideal to process it right away. Avoid adding it to a pile for later or marking an email as unread. If it’s a quick task, commit to touching (working) on that task one time. Otherwise, you’ll inevitably need to repeat some form of action, such as reading that email once again. This might seem inconsequential in the moment. But this redundancy can easily add up to hundreds of hours a year – time you could spend on a more fulfilling activity. You can certainly scan for urgency, but if you touch a supporting task, commit to completing it now.

Of course, this strategy must be paired with the ‘Dedicate time’ strategy. For example, only look at email during times you’ve dedicated to processing email. Otherwise, your supporting tasks will overtake your core priorities.

Defer as appropriate

Admittedly, not all supporting tasks require short bursts of action. Some of these tasks require you to roll up your sleeves and dig into it. Some tasks will require time you don’t have right now. So, you need to defer action.

The key to deferring tasks is not to pile them or flag them or leave them in your inbox. Otherwise, they tend to sit and accumulate dust over time. Instead, list them in one central place: your Main Action Plan (MAP). This is your primary to do list and I wrote about it in detail in last week’s post. Parking any supporting tasks on your MAP gives you space to focus on what matters most: your core priorities.

Sure, it might be tempting to complete all your supporting tasks now. And if you had infinite time, I’d agree with this strategy. But days race by and we want to protect most of our fleeting time for our priorities. Our supporting tasks, while important, are still simply supporting other more important work.

Dedicate time; Do it now; Defer as appropriate – this 3D Approach is the optimal way to balance your time between core and supporting tasks. Give this a try and please let me know how it works for you. I’ll be cheering you on from the other side of the screen.

To learn more about time management, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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