by Elaine Zeinner

How to keep your cool when deadlines loom

We all find ourselves in those moments of “feast or famine” when it comes to our projects list at work: There are times when things are quiet, and there are times when our inboxes look like a revolving door of new projects, all with fast and furious deadlines.

I’ll take a busy day over a boring day anytime, but it can quickly become too much of a good thing. Next time you find yourself swimming through endless project requests, try out these tried-and-true  project management tips to help you conquer your to-do list!

1. Have a good system in place

The best way to manage a busy time at work (and at home) is to have a good organization system in place. This looks a little different for everyone. Some people work best from a to-do list; others prefer to write projects on sticky notes and post them around their work place.

A few years ago I discovered bullet journaling. For me, it was the perfect way to track my schedule and activities in one place. There are some beautiful examples of creative bullet journal entries on Pinterest, but I like to keep it pretty simple. I use a simple grid to stay on top of my planned tasks for each day.

On Sunday, I go through my inbox and project list and plan out what my week will look like. This has helped anchor me throughout the week —  giving me a place to look back on deadlines and my original plan of attack. More often than not, that plan shifts, but it still helps me keep deadlines, appointments and important to-dos top of mind.

2. Be ready to toss that plan out the window

While it’s great to have a plan in place to help you stay organized, sometimes it’s just not feasible to spend 30 minutes to an hour getting ready for the week. When that happens, you’ll find me scribbling notes on scrap pieces of paper or mapping out daily to-do lists instead of weekly.

Even though I can’t organize my tasks exactly the way I prefer, I still follow my general approach to organization: Every evening before I call it a night, I take stock of what needs to be done the next day. I either write that list directly in my bullet journal, or I write it on my scrap paper and tuck it into my journal (that’s close enough, right?).

The approach you take may be completely different. But I’ve found that when I focus on what’s in front of me, I can adapt my “system” to work for me in busy times.

3. Take care of yourself

Self-care is all the rage right now for a good reason: It works. It helps you feel better physically, emotionally and mentally. I work from home, and while it has a lot of advantages, the major disadvantage is that work is always right there. It’s easy to sneak over to my computer and do “just one thing.” Then, two hours later, I’m still working and answering emails.

Even if you don’t work from home, laptops and smartphones make work accessible 24/7. The reality is, there will be times you have to stay up late or work extra evenings to meet important deadlines. When that happens, listen to your body. When you’re tired or crabby, take a break. That’s all self-care is. Go for a walk around the block. Play with your kids. Take a bubble bath. Read a book. Go to bed early. There have been many nights I’ve headed to bed early feeling awful, and then I wake up refreshed and ready to go.

4. Take care of each other

If you’re really busy, it’s likely that so are the other members of your team. Check on each other. Offer a hand and share ideas or resources to help streamline work or get it done.

I’ve worked at two places that talked the talk and walked the walk when it comes to valuing their team — and one of those I’m lucky to call my work home now, at WriterGirl. I can tell you from experience what a motivator and energy boost it is when my coworkers check in on me, offer ways they can help or simply thank me for tackling a project. I feel a responsibility to get the work done, the right way and on time, for not only our clients, but for my coworkers. I want all of us to succeed, and we do that together every day.

5. Ask for help

This may seem like the most obvious way to manage projects, but it’s often the most difficult one. No one likes to admit that they can’t handle something. The truth is, it’s not about whether you can handle a task or situation — it’s about knowing your limits and taking care of yourself. When you find yourself so drained that it’s impacting your work or your relationships, it’s time to wave the white flag.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in any given day, and practice one of the most powerful words in the English language: “No.” Your team will still know you’re reliable and a team player, even when you tell them you can’t handle anything else. And they’ll appreciate that you ask for help when your list becomes too daunting.

Everyone has a different approach to managing their perfect storm of project requests. These five have worked for me. What works best for you? Share your project management tips in the comments or on social media!