Here’s the thing:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by competing deadlines and demands on your time and attention, you’re lucky. What’s really hard is when no one gives a crap what you’re doing or when you’re done with it.

I’m in there somewhere.

This is what I keep reminding myself as I work through a bit of a workload log jam. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can split myself into multiple Phils and assign each one to a project so they can be finished simultaneously. I wish.

So what happens when you have many things all due around the same time and all are of more or less equal importance? You have to prioritize, but how?

In disasters and war zones doctors will triage patients, separating them into three groups: people who need attention now, people who are injured but can wait a little, and people who are going to die no matter what.

I don’t like this idea for organizing projects. I don’t want to think of any of them as “going to die no matter what,” or even as “injured.” You know me. I’m a positive, up-beat kinda guy. And I’m not going to leave a project to fail. Every project deserves a fighting chance!

So I need to be more up-beat and positive, which makes it a little more complex.

Do I organize these projects by how much they pay? Do the one that brings in the most money first? That seems awful mercenary, but hey, I’m a grown-up with grown-up responsibilities, and . . . no, that doesn’t work. The one with the biggest immediate payday actually doesn’t have the most immediate deadline, and the one with the smallest payday is for a new client I’d like to see more work from in the future, so that can’t be blown off, or even turned in late.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I have an answer for this.

How it’s turned out is that I have picked one project I know I can finish today, and now I even feel guilty writing this post and not getting busy with that. When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed by workload, nothing feels better than to finish something—anything, just something you can cross off that to do list.

The next thing up will be to finish the smaller project—I’m still okay with the deadline there and if I jump right onto that I’ll be fine.

The really big project is humming along and doesn’t need my constant attention, but a curveball’s been thrown at me on that one that needs to be resolved by Thursday, which is also when I need to be prepared for my last class of the summer term and I have another phone meeting with a new client that morning, too, and . . .


Back to work for me.


—Philip Athans




About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Hey Phil,
    When I teach prioritizing as part of a Time Management course, I suggest that you write a list of everything on your To Do list. Then you look at the list and ask, “If I can do only one thing today,what should it be?” Mark that one as #1. Then, you ask, “If I can do one more thing today, what should that be?” Mark that one as #2. Ask the question one or two times more, but no more because your list might change during the day. Then you put an asterisk next to any item that takes <5 minutes. These are fillers when you have a few minutes but not enough to finish a larger task. This works best for me, and my students seem to like it.

    Hope it helps.

  2. Pingback: TAKING MY OWN ADVICE | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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