This has probably happened to everyone at some point in their professional lives: so much to do in so little time.

What are some of the ideas and coping mechanisms that could ease the tension?

When time is running out and deadlines are mounting, it is important to take a step back and assess the situation. The first step is to make sure that the deadlines are still valid. Before stressing about them it is recommended to check with the responsible people whether there has been a change and maybe some tasks have been or could be shifted to later.

If the deadlines are still valid, the next step is to prioritize and tackle the tasks that need to be done first on higher priority. The thing is, when deadlines are not pressing, we have the luxury to choose between tasks and do the ones we enjoy most first. This luxury goes out the window when things simply need to get done, no matter how unappealing they might be. And to classify the priorities properly, several methods can be used like

The Eisenhower Matrix

It boils down to combinations of these two factors: urgency and importance. Taking some time to judge the tasks based on these two factors and comparing them to each other will show which tasks to handle first:

  1. Urgent and important: these tasks need to be taken up immediately

  2. Important but not urgent: these tasks are important but not that time sensitive and can be tackled later

  3. Urgent but not important: these need to be handled right away but are good candidates for delegation

  4. Not urgent or important: these tasks can be eliminated.

The different boxes can be labeled as

  1. Do

  2. Decide

  3. Delegate

  4. Delete

What Is the Eisenhower Matrix? Definition, Tasks, and Tips |

ABCDE method

The ABCDE method is another way to sort the tasks at hand by priority. The higher the letter, the more urgent or important a task is. This method requires labeling all the tasks at hand, giving an A to the most important tasks, and working yourself down the alphabet. This way you create a to-do list with very clear priorities, Already at the letter D, you come to a task that can be delegated to somebody else and E stands for elimination.

Once all tasks have been labeled, you work on the important tasks under A and B first and can only start with nice to have tasks under C when the tasks under the first two letters are done. After having delegated the D tasks, it is time to discuss with the manager what to do about E tasks as you believe they can be eliminated.

The ABCDE Method for Prioritising Tasks – Prioritisation Articles (

The Pareto principle

Another way to prioritize is by applying the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule. The Pareto principle used in a business context is defined as 20% of the input creating 80% of the result (Understanding the Pareto Principle (The 80/20 Rule) – BetterExplained).

To use this properly one needs to find the factors that are responsible for success and focus on those. In our case of pressing deadlines, when it is necessary to choose.

  • Chose the tasks with the most minimal input that will yield the most output

  • Or the tasks of the 20% of customers that contribute 80% to your revenue

  • Or the 20% of your employees that contribute to 80% of the company’s success.

Another suggested way to prioritize is to put all the small things together in one basket and just do them all together. If you like the feeling of being able to tick things off your to-do list, this way will give you satisfaction and motivation. And it will be easier to move on to more complex tasks.

Whatever method is chosen to prioritize the tasks, we should not lose sight of any cross-dependencies. If tasks need to be in a specific order, like say, building the walls before building the roof, then that necessary order will define which task is tackled first or before another.

In addition to prioritizing tasks, it is also important to focus on the “who” aspect. Even if tasks have landed on our desks, it does not mean we should try to solve everything ourselves. Even under pressure we should utilize our unique abilities and try to solve tasks that fall into those abilities. The reason is that even if we find somebody to hand them over to, we would probably have been more efficient in solving them ourselves. And we get motivation and satisfaction out of solving tasks that suit us, and that fall into our wheelhouse.

Handing over tasks, at least partially, is another option to help ease the pressure. We can take a look at the tasks and try to find either complete tasks or parts of them that somebody else could work on as well. What could be an issue with this is that the work needs to be checked, potentially corrected, after somebody else has tackled them at that cost’s time as well. And not planning such a handover last minute is recommended because would you want an extra task on your desk that needs to be tackled immediately? Nope.

And the last chance is: can we get the task eliminated? There are potential tasks that are neither important nor urgent and become even less so as time passes. So when we have completed the important tasks and we have even delegated tasks, we should take a look at the ones we deemed E candidates using the ABCDE method or Delete candidates using the Eisenhower matrix. By using the same thought process for labeling them, they could potentially be argued away.

Overall, when dealing with pressing deadlines and mounting tasks, it is important to prioritize and focus on the most important tasks, utilize tools such as the Eisenhower Matrix, the ABCDE method, and the Pareto principle, and also consider delegating or outsourcing tasks where possible.