Stop Feeling Overwhelmed By Your Work

I used to feel completely overwhelmed each day. I was one of those that had a never-ending to-do list, that only got longer every meeting I attended. I can’t tell you the number of times that I ended the day feeling more overwhelmed with the amount of work that I had to do than when I started.

Thankfully, I got a coach. I talked to my coach about all the feelings I had in order to get things done. I questioned my sanity several times, but she was there to help walk me through it. To help get me to where I could logically think through each day and put in place a system that is working well for me.

Let’s talk about the system.

Take Time to Review and Plan

I think some people would call me crazy, but I spend about 8 hours a week, reviewing and planning for the week. That’s 20% of my week spent reviewing and planning. It might feel insane, but when I break it down, I don’t think you’ll think that.

I’m going to walk you through my Fridays first because that’s where the most planning really begins for me.

Starting with Fridays

My Friday afternoons are reserved for reviewing my notes from every meeting I attended that week. I take notes on everything. My day job gives me a minimum of 12 hours of meetings a week. That’s the typical week. And the recurring meetings. If I’m meeting with users, I might have another 2-4 hours of meetings. Then comes the drop-ins. There are probably another 2-4 hours of drop-ins a week. Drop-ins are meetings that are ad-hoc or other 1:1 types that get scheduled to go deep about a specific topic. That means on my busiest of weeks I’m looking at 20 hours of meetings.

I find that it’s important to review those to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. Whether there was an action item (to-do) assigned to me, or I need to document decisions from a meeting, it’s important that I review these.

Ok. So my Friday afternoons consist of going through all the notes from each meeting throughout the week and documenting those outcomes in our various internal documentation places and working on grabbing my tasks for the next week.

Documentation

Let me try to break down documentation a bit to give you an idea of what that looks like. As a product manager, I’m a chief communicator of our product internally. I’m informing people of plans and getting feedback on those plans or ideas for the future. These items shouldn’t be something that lives in a document that only I have access to or that is attached to a shared meeting notes document.

That means someone (me) needs to make sure we’re documenting our outcomes and feedback in places that others can see it.

At my day job (Gravity Forms), we use a variety of tools. Github and Product Board are our go-to for most of this type of documentation. That means I’m spending a lot of time in there updating features or issues based on the outcomes of our meetings.

I’m also spending a lot of time in our Github wiki to help document some of our processes. To some people, the documentation doesn’t sound like a fun job. But it’s rewarding to see that you can reference it when needed.

Tasks / Action Items

I typically review and plan my tasks or action items before getting to the documentation, but I’m going to keep the order of them here as I think it flows better.

Throughout the week, it’s inevitable that items will be assigned to me during a meeting, or I’ll need to add something to my to-do list to find further out about something. I make sure that I collect all my tasks from my notes (both written and through meeting notes) and begin to work through them.

I first put them all into a list. If they have due dates, I’ll make note of that, as it helps to prioritize them. If they do not have a due date, but maybe someone is needing me to get information or make a decision on something, I’ll work with them to understand the priority.

Ultimately, my goal here is to end up with my to-do list prioritized. Happy to go further into detail about it at a later date if that’s of interest.

Prep for Monday

At Gravity Forms, I’m not just a product manager, but also a product owner. If you are familiar with the SCRUM product development model, you’ll understand what a P.O. does. If not, here’s the gist. A P.O. will plan the next sprint for the development team. This means that I’m having to take into account a wide range of inputs and put together a week’s worth of work for our development team to focus on.

On Fridays, I’m putting together a preliminary list of tasks to be worked on during the following week. My goal in doing this is so that Monday, the rest of the product management crew can look over the tasks and agree or suggest slight changes before I present it to the product development team.

In most cases, this is only about an hour’s worth of work. But if I found myself during the week being a little apart from the product development process (like focusing on competitive analysis, or going deep into user research), it might take me a little longer to feel comfortable with planning the sprint for the next week.

My goal though is to end the week with a plan for the following week. This way I can spend Monday setting up the week.

Monday – Planning the Week

During the weekends, I mainly check out from the work. There may be one or two things I’m subconsciously thinking about, something that is typically something that requires deep thinking and marinating.

Monday’s are generally my planning day. Because I’ve taken the time on Friday to review the previous week and get my to-list in order, I can come in feeling refreshed and ready to go about my week.

The first thing I do on Mondays is to spend about an hour scheduling out my to-list. To me this means, I’ll move some of my to-list items to various days, schedule any ad-hoc meetings I need to be scheduled, and generally plan my non-meeting time with what I’m going to be tackling for the week.

Because I work on a team, I have several planning meetings on Monday. They are about 4 hours worth of my day, but it sets the tone for the rest of the week.

I’ll start off by meeting the rest of our product management crew. We have a planning and strategy meeting on Monday where we agree to the sprint and plan what we intend to go over in other meetings throughout the week. We do this in a collaborative nature, so we’re not relying on a single person to come up with the plan.

The second planning meeting for the week is the product development meeting around the sprint.

On Staying Organized

Fellow’s great for notetaking and planning your week

There’s a multitude of tools that can help you keep organized. I’ve tried them all. I’ll say that the best I’ve found is Fellow. And it wasn’t until I started working at Gravity Forms that I found it. It provides me with the ability to take collaborative notes for each meeting, take and assign action items from meetings, and even have a feed of previous meeting notes.

It’s probably the most intensive tool I’ve found for keeping me highly organized. It’s one of the reasons I’ve now moved even my personal meetings and tracking over to it.

How are you staying organized? How are you dealing with the feeling of being overwhelmed? Reach out on Twitter. Or join my email list.