By: Thomas Carson

Systems Improve Task Management AND Your Health 

This morning I had the pleasure of taking my car into the dealer for service.  It was kind of like going to the dentist: everybody is nice as can be but you know you won’t really enjoy the experience.  I was talking with the customer service rep who was very apologetic while explaining to me that what would normally be a one-day project would almost certainly take two because they are operating with half of their normal number of qualified mechanics.  Many left during the pandemic and re-hiring has been a challenge, so they have been short-staffed and over-worked for months now.   

This is yet another example of workers and companies that are under stress from COVID-induced concerns that show little sign of letting up soon.  Many of us are under pressure to get more done, with less resource and more urgency than we were 19 months ago.  Combined with the stress of managing children’s or at-risk family members’ well-being, and adapting to often-changing rules for social interactions, it isn’t surprising that mental health issues have moved into the open.  My nephew and his now-wife were among many people who put their personal life plans on hold and postponed their scheduled wedding because of the contact and travel rules.  (They eventually did the rational thing and more-or-less eloped – life plans only wait so long.) 

In a blog in EHS Today this week, Nicole Stempak wrote about the potentially destructive impact of making and trying to manage To-Do lists, then beating yourself up when you fail to make meaningful progress on the list items.  I get it – effective task management, from identifying things that need to be done, prioritization and completion is difficult in the best of times.  The additional distractions that we have been saddled with since early 2020 can make this overwhelming.   

Prioritize

As with many of life’s hazards, there are actions that you can take to mitigate the risks.  First, Learn to Prioritize.  We all know people for whom every issue in front of them is a number one priority.  That can’t be – not in a literal sense and not figuratively.  I once had an accounting colleague who maintained a call list of past due customers.  The list was arranged alphabetically, and each day she started at the top of the list, with the result that if you were the XYZ Company, I am not sure you ever had to pay.  There are many helpful models for organizing tasks by importance, but there are common themes.  If as a team, you gather your list of potential projects, accept that they can’t all be done by next week, then all agree to the order and timing in which selected items can be completed, you will all be happier.  Having said that, be careful to not over-commit on timelines or you will be back in the same boat you started.  Be realistic, and make the selection and prioritization process collaborative – the more people buy in to the process, the more support you will have when you need to push back on project scope creep.   

Resist the Temptation

A second suggestion I have is to resist the temptation to first work on the things you like or that seem easy – those are almost never the items that are actually most important, which is why the group prioritization is so important.   

Integrate a System

Finally, and I offer this without trying to seem self-serving, there are some great systems out there for identifying and managing safety and organizational risks that organize and simplify the entire process.  Some years ago you could argue that these systems were not practical or not affordable or not accessible.  That is just not true anymore, and if you are trying to manage your programs on paper forms and spreadsheets, you are doing yourself and your organization an enormous disservice.  Your company deserves better and so do you – for your health and well-being.   

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