From Chaos to Control: How to Stay Productive in a Sea of Tasks and Deadlines

Discover the potential of transforming your productivity through skillful prioritization, organizational strategies, and digital resources.

In my experience as a project manager in an agency setting, juggling multiple projects simultaneously, I realized long ago that relying solely on my memory was a recipe for forgetfulness and missed tasks. I developed a mantra to raise the bar for myself: “Anticipate what everyone needs, and help them get it before they have to ask for it.” I wanted to be proactive in my work, which required a change in my approach.

Essentially I learned the brain is not to be trusted…

Artistic image of a brain with pink and purple gradients
Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

The Power of Organization and Time Management

Good organization and time management skills are the unsung heroes of a good project manager. There was a time when I thought I could keep it all in my head, but after a few instances of forgetting to do or communicate important things, I started the barrage of Post-it notes around my workspace with lists of things I didn’t have to remember. It wasn’t long before I knew that was not the long-term solution.

Effective Prioritization: Tools and Strategies

I’m showing my age now, but it was shortly after I found the Franklin Covey method. Yeah, I had the planner and the custom pages that included the daily task list, and it CHANGED MY LIFE. I started prioritizing based on identifying and focusing on the most important tasks and activities. I was categorizing them based on their urgency and importance using tools like the Eisenhower Matrix, which divides tasks into four quadrants: important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and not urgent or important. By adopting this method, I gained clarity and focused on the most critical tasks while ensuring nothing important fell through the cracks.

Eisenhower Matrix

When to do chart
The Eisenhower Matrix Principle. ©

Implementing Priority Levels

Generally, it looks something like this:

  • Urgent / Important
    • Deadlines, emergencies, pressing meetings, last-minute preparations
  • Not Urgent / Important
    • Relationship building
    • Personal Development
    • Training
    • Exercise / Health
  • Urgent / Not Important
    • Most emails, phone calls
    • Miscellaneous interruptions
    • Some meetings / activities
  • Not urgent / Not Important
    • Time wasters

Once I had my list, I would start converting and ordering based on overall priority:

  • A = Must be done—Critical, and I should do these today
  • B = Should be done—Important, and I probably need to do these today, possibly tomorrow
  • C = Could be done—Low value, if I get everything else done, then tackle these, but they are easily moveable
  • D = Waste—No value, and probably shouldn’t go on the list at all

Then, I would assign a number to those items for higher priority to lower:

  • A1 – Set team priorities for the day
  • A2 – Prepare for client Meeting
  • A3 – Review and update weekly project numbers
  • B1 – Schedule time to do my end of year (EOY) review
  • B2 – Build out the new project

Transitioning to Digital Tools

This mindset for setting priorities has stuck with me, even though my Franklin Planner has been replaced with many a digital app since then, but I will get to those in a second. While I highly recommend the above approach, you can do several other things to stay on top of your task list. Check out #5 in the below list for some of my recommendations.

Task view of Asana
Photo from

Practical Tips for Productivity

  1. Determine tomorrow’s to-do list today.
    Before leaving for the day, take a few moments to plan your tasks for the next day. Review what was left unfinished, reorganize the order, and consider any upcoming meetings or events that must be accounted for.
  2. Consider knocking out the thing you don’t want to do the most first.
    Sometimes that thing we don’t want to do is taking up mental space and adding stress with the anticipation of taking care of it. That alone can elevate the priority on my list. It may not be “due” first, but I will have a much easier time focusing on the rest of the things I need to take care of.
  3. Know when to say “no.”
    I am fortunate to work with a super helpful bunch of people and endeavor to be one of those people, but sometimes you have to get your oxygen mask on before you can help others with theirs. If I’m already taking care of a mountain of tasks and competing deadlines, I need to be able to say, “No, I cannot help you right now,” and possibly suggest some other helpers or quick means of mitigating their issue as best I can. It’s a rare thing, and communicating the reasons you cannot help is key in this situation.
  4. Have your plan at 8 am—and don’t stress when everything has changed by 10 am.
    The agency environment can be a pretty busy one. Client requests, support cases, unforeseen issues, etc., are part of a normal work week. It became imperative for me to recognize that there are some days when you have to throw the plan away and start over tomorrow. As I stated earlier, we have a great team of people, and I can communicate when things are rough and we lean on each other to get everything done. Maybe something I thought I had to do can be delegated to someone else. Maybe I could ask a client to reschedule a meeting or have another team assist with a support case. It’s important to take a moment and weigh your options, and choose the best course of action. Maybe that is a day where you will end up working late, or tomorrow you are coming in early. Either way, formulate your new plan and get it done.
  5. Find a helper.
    While I was a long-term Franklin Planner user, I eventually looked for an app alternative. Today, Asana runs my work life, and I know several associates use OneNote or apps like ToodleDo or Remember the Milk. I suggest any app that lets you add, remove, and edit your tasks as quickly as possible. As long as I can move them around to reflect priority, I’m happy.
  6. Make Time.
    I also recommend blocking time off on your calendar. We tend to see calendar gaps and assume that time is free. Sometimes, you just need to block an hour or two to get the work done that has come out of the meetings you have been in.

Embracing Productivity for Success

Productivity isn’t just about being a taskmaster; it’s about reclaiming control over your time and energy. Embrace the power of prioritization and make room for the things that truly matter, whether it’s building relationships, personal growth, or taking care of yourself. Remember, it’s not always about getting everything done; it’s about getting the right things done. So, go forth with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with your chosen productivity tools, and carve out a path to success that reflects your unique journey.

About the Author

Mike Kren

Mike has been managing large-scale projects since 2006. His passion is bringing order to the chaos to keep everyone on the same page and the work moving forward. He has always enjoyed working as part of a team and believes that team includes clients too. Mike loves spending time with his wife, 4 kids, and his dog. He’s an avid film buff, amateur backpacker, and experimental cook, with flashes of brilliance around a pool table.

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