This article was originally published here on Forbes.com.
Want To Prevent Task Overload? Try The Bucket
The refrain among leaders across industries is much the same: we’re all feeling called upon to do more with less. There are a number of good recommendations out there for improving the way our brains manage that stress. How can we prevent task overload? I want to add one more critical tool to the mix—a concept I learned in Naval Aviation training called “The Bucket.”
When we already feel as if we have too much to do and not enough time for doing it, taking on even more tasks is bound to lead to being overloaded. Task overload (sometimes referred to as task saturation) is one of the quickest ways to derail our chances of achieving a solid performance.
How will you recognize when you or someone else on your team is becoming overloaded? In aviation training, we learned to look for overtasking cues, the signs of psychological and physiological stress that manifest themselves in one or more of these ways:
- Momentary indecision or confusion.
- Wasted movements in the cockpit.
- Missed tasks and checks.
- Erratic or inconsistent basic airwork.
- Loss of, late, or nonstandard verbal response.
- Loss of overall situational awareness.
Countless accidents have occurred in the low-altitude environment because of information overload, task overload, and wrong task prioritization. Pilots who are not effectively managing tasks are more likely to make errors, become overwhelmed, and lose that critical capacity for situational awareness.
That’s why “The Bucket” is one of the first and most fundamental tools taught in naval aviation training, particularly when it comes to tricky and risky flights. The Bucket helps pilots identify the only acceptable tasks for their brains to focus on completing in times of peak stress and overwhelm.
Within The Bucket are two categories of tasks:
- Terrain Clearance Tasks (TCT). These are high priority. They involve any mental or physical effort needed to avoid the number-one thing you want to avoid when flying a plane: hitting the ground.
- Mission Tasks (MT). These are subdivided into those that are Critical Tasks and those that are Non-Critical Tasks. MTs include all remaining activities required to accomplish your mission—these are lower on the priority scale. Critical MTs are the ones demanding immediate attention, while non-critical MTs are even lower priority.
Visualizing The Bucket helps pilots prioritize when tasks start to feel overwhelming. The Bucket helps with one of the most difficult things to do: noticing which tasks you need to shed. You shed the things that are less critical, so that you have more brain space to focus on what’s most critical.
Now imagine an actual bucket.
You fill it first with your number-one priority (your Terrain Critical Tasks)—then whatever room is left you can fill with Critical Mission Tasks and then Non-Critical Mission Tasks. Remember, your primary task ( i.e., the most important) will always be first in and last out. It’s the task that’s always important for you, all the time.
With experience, you’ll feel more comfortable recognizing task overload, preparing to prevent it, planning to respond to it, task shedding, and staying focused on your Span of Control.
Don’t try to do everything at once, don’t task switch, and don’t focus on things that don’t matter.
Instead, be intentional about where you put your attention. Take the time to identify the most important work you should be focusing on and what is under your Span of Control.