Chaos to Order: Staying On-Track when Work Piles-Up

Chaos to Order: Staying On-Track when Work Piles-Up

Bethany Wagar

You just parked your car. You sit for a moment, gathering your resolve to enter the building. It’s the first day of classes and you estimate how many times you will hear, “I start school today,” in the next several hours.

You enter your office to find the voicemail light on your phone blinking red. Five voicemail messages later, you venture into your email. Before you can prioritize the pending requests, there is someone standing just outside the entrance to your office. Their eyes are screaming, “Please help!” and they give you the rundown. The student is upset and frantic to get their required school books, but have yet to submit their verification documents. They don’t understand why these documents are needed. Their parents don’t support them, so they need someone in Financial Aid to explain “why does it matter what they make?” You briefly glance at your coffee to ensure there is enough left to get you through this.

Five hours, ten students, and three crying-fits later, you have yet to begin processing and only returned two voicemail messages. Your desk has ten different stacks of financial aid guidance and incomplete projects. You are not sure where yesterday ended and today began. You have no idea where to start.

First, grab some lunch because a “hangry” financial aid advisor might get him/herself fired. Second, refill your coffee cup (or whatever liquid energy you require to function). Third, remind yourself how much you love your job by creating and repeating a mantra. Don’t worry; no one thinks you’re crazy! Fourth, review the following list of helpful organization tips and apply the ones that would benefit you the most:

  • Utilize a to-do list
    Nothing is more rewarding then being able to measure your progress!
  • Organize & prioritize
    Keep a special place to stack projects and put them in order according to priority. Knowing which task comes first allows you to skip the procrastination and get to work.
  • Analyze your work processes and identify patterns
    Capitalize on what works well and fix what needs improvement.
  • Don’t procrastinate
    While a pile of work might be impossible to avoid, don’t be afraid to tackle issues head-on.
  • Create small goals
    Break-up large tasks into smaller ones. Smaller bits are easier to swallow.
  • Create space
    Everything should have a designated home, no improvising. Especially when work is piling up, having everything in its place enhances your ability to work and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  • Take out the trash
    Purge at regular intervals. Get rid of what is just taking up space and soaking up the dust. The odds are, you will never think about it again!
  • Maximize your technology use
    With the right tactics, technology can make sure you track your thoughts, schedule time for specific tasks, remind you to complete said tasks, and help you quickly process. And, technology can help you remove some of the paper clutter that appears to be the output of a mini tornado.
  • And most importantly, learn from others and from past experiences
    Even if it can’t be used five days ago when you really needed, remember what ideas worked better and put them towards future use. No wallowing in the past.

Individuals in the financial aid industry are some of the best people I know. We work long hours to ensure every student is taken care of and we spend hours reviewing regulations so we don’t have to say no. Spend a few hours after this busy time pampering yourself for a job well done!

Bethany Wagar
Financial Aid Specialist
Colorado Community College System
CAFAA Secretary