Hordes of Tasks
Recurrent tasks are like a horde of zombies, slowly growing in numbers while relentlessly moving toward their target. No matter what we do, they come back. Escape is impossible, you have to do something, but the harder you try, the harder it gets.
We can never be done with the horde, we have to find a way to manage it. We have to understand how the recurrent tasks behave, how the horde is formed and be smarter about what we do and when we do it.
There are at least two ways a horde form: by accumulation and by synchronization. Of course they are not mutually exclusive, they actually can reinforce each other if we are not careful.
First, and most obvious, is by accumulation. A horde grows by accumulation when mature tasks are delayed, thus increasing the future workload. This sounds negative, but there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for delaying tasks. If use properly, delaying can help counter the second formation mechanism: synchronization.
Synchronization is less obvious because unlike accumulation we can't see direct effect on the horde, we can't see it grows gradually. When synchronization is involved, a horde will suddenly rise. A horde is formed by synchronization when tasks with the same frequency or a harmonic of the same frequency align to be in phase; in other words, they mature at the same time.
How to Deal With a Horde
We have to be realistic, there is a limit to what we can do; at some point we may reach the maximum of tasks, we can handle. When this happens, when we saturate, there is no time management or personal productivity trick that will fix it. It might be time to call for help. But before we reach the breaking point, there are a few things we can try to prevent and deal with a horde.
This is no secret to get things done, someone somewhere will need to work. To prevent the horde from forming by accumulation we have to work diligently. We do not necessarily have to work hard or a lot. We have to work constantly and persistently.
Avoid Going All Out
When tasks pile up, it is tempting to make a special effort to do as much as we can in one go. Example: Taking a day off from work to catch up on errands, cleaning and laundry. It will give us a momentary relief, but in the long run it will come back to bite us. Why? Because of synchronization. When processing recurrent tasks in batch, all the tasks that have the same frequency or a harmonic of the same frequency will become in phase; this means that at some point in the future all the tasks will mature at the same time forcing us to make, yet again, a special effort to get it all done. Avoid doing to much.
Distribute the Workload
Tasks sharing the same frequency should be scattered to prevent them from becoming in phase. Example: If four tasks with a 7-day frequency mature on Monday, it could be preferable to do two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday than all at once on any day.
Don't Ask for Help Too Early
If we have too many tasks to do on one day, it does not necessarily mean that we are under capacity. We may just be temporally under capacity. Here capacity mean: time and energy available to do something. If we ask for help in order to deal with everything at once, it is the equivalent of Going All Out and we might create a horde by synchronization. Asking for help is necessary if the workload is already evenly distributed and is more than what we can handle.
When dealing with a large recurrent task, we have to be careful to avoid the formation of a horde by accumulating or synchronizing them. Managing a horde of tasks can be counter-intuitive, in the sense that working harder can actually increase the future workload. Carefully distributing the workload to respect our capacity and working diligently is the way to defeat the hordes.