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Day of Pain and Suffering

Sometimes, backlog just happens.

It’s when we get rolling on something and get busy and… some things slip through the cracks. And these things pile up.

What happens to most people, is that this pile grows and grows. And then grows some more… until it starts causing problems. And we don’t want that.

So the question is – what can we do about backlog?

Most people just ignore it and hope that it goes away. That can work sometimes. But it can also be disastrous at other times.

What separates the Asian Efficient™ from everyone else is that they know they need to handle backlog, because:

  • It takes up mind share. Every single little item of backlog is occupying a tiny portion of your thoughts, your attention, your will. And if you have lots of these little things, they become a small army of thoughts – thoughts that battle with you when you’re trying to focus on important work, or trying to read to your kids, or even trying to get to sleep at night.
  • Sometimes, important things end up in backlog. These are the worst – things that we don’t initially think are important but are actually monumentally important. They end up in backlog, and when they’re sufficiently overdue… they come back and bite us in the behind.

There are a lot of different ways to deal with backlog, but we’re going to talk about one in particular here. We call it the Day of Pain and Suffering.

The Day of Pain and Suffering

Day of Pain and Suffering

The Day of Pain and Suffering is one of the techniques that we teach in the Productivity Blueprint.

It is pretty much what it sounds like.

You block off one day in your calendar… and clear backlog. You will go through pain. You will go through suffering. You will curse. You will want to poke your eyes out with Japanese chopsticks (Thanh’s note: please don’t try this at home). But you will get through backlog.

But let’s be strategic with this.

How exactly does one go through a Day of Pain and Suffering?

First, you write out a big list of all your backlog items. Collect them from your task manager. Your calendar. Your email. The post-its you have plastered everywhere. And put them all in one list.

You then want to pick a day, and block it off in your calendar.

Thirdly, you want to arm yourself – if it’s going to be an all-day session of office torture, you may as well make it as comfortable as you can. Get tea, get coffee, get music. Have a clear objective of handling our backlog.

Fourthly, when the day arrives, prepare yourself. You’ll feel anticipation. You’ll feel nervousness, you may even feel a bit anxious. But you can hold onto the fact and thought and feeling that at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you will be in a better position than you were at the beginning of the day. Whatever emotions you feel as you go through this Day of Pain and Suffering, remember that it’s just a crazy emotional current that’s gone haywire – it’s just emotional static.

Start Clearing Backlog

Finally, go ahead and start clearing that backlog.

And when you’re done at the end of the day – breathe, smile, and go enjoy yourself a little. Because you deserve it.

In Closing

We could have made this article longer but that would be doing a disservice to the technique – it is very straightforward and as written above.

For other ways to clear backlog, or for other cutting-edge ways to deal with distractions and workplace annoyances, sign up for Productivity Blueprint course. We’ll notify you when it’s available.

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Last Updated: February 2, 2021

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. What about just crossing stuff off from your lists without even doing it? I mean, we all have a huge backlog of Very Important Things that we have to do, but when it comes down to it, breathe and pay taxes is about it for the true list of Important Things.

    I think simplification and just crossing things out is just as effective as the “backlog day”. Am I just naive? Or genius? Or somewhere in between?

  2. I think it is also important to mention not to add any more to your already gigantic to do list for the Day of Pain. If you are taking care of the backlog and also trying to deal with what is simultaneously coming your way, you might get super overwhelmed. Take care of the backlog and once you are done, take care of your daily activities.

  3. At this point now…

    I have organized the backlog into groups by going in pulling out all the junk and sorting with a “Right F**king Now” group. Also taking the time to purge as I go like all the mail, contacts, voice mail, and email. I have found this to be liberating and clarifying. Even going as far as clearing out everything on/in/behind my workspace. I have found this is easier to process down to the RFN folder and keep adding to it from the other groups until its done. In other words I work from only the RFN folder. This also makes it easier to do in batches over time. These groups are set on my computer, email, and physical files. All are worked though ultimately to end up in my archive on my backup hard drive. Luckily I have an assistant helping me and if I didn’t I would get a temp to help because they are worth it to help get you on top of the workload. Being on top of things feels so much better than being buried by it.

  4. I’m glad to find I’m not the only person who does this! Personally, I find it really hard when my list of ‘important / urgent things to do’ gets large; I find it quite overwhelming to the point of distraction (which just compounds the problem, of course).

    Taking a day out to ‘nail it’ is ideal, but it’s really hard to commit to it – it sometimes feels like you’re losing another day at the expense of your ever-growing lists – but you just have to bite the bullet and do it. The pain leading up to making that decision is greatly compensated for by the feeling afterwards that you’ve overcome a seemingly impossible situation.

    1. Yeah I don’t think anyone looks forward to the day of pain and suffering, but once you get passed it…it feels amazing. It’s kind of like eating your frog (doing the unpleasant thing first every day).

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