If you’re in the middle of growing your business or your career, you likely have more work than you have time for, and just putting your head down and doing isn’t a sustainable situation. Yet it can become a chronic and ultimately troubling one. What’s to be done?
When we have too little work, it is an emergency. Too little work means a significant push is called for — advertising, networking, PR, media. Not enough work offers clear pathways to solutions; although some are more and some less effective-find work, don’t stop until you’ve sufficiently filled the calendar. Every startup initially faces this, and many people get so comfortable dealing with this pressure that they don’t see the tide turning and beginning to overfill their work blocks. They just keep saying yes.
There are also those blissful moments when we have just the right amount of work, Goldilocks moments–our calendars aren’t too cold or too hot. We are making reasonable revenue but we can get home for supper on time. The problem is that “just enough” will often quickly fall back into not enough. Your pipeline has air bubbles in it; expansion, R&D or payroll will soon demand more resources, even though there isn’t current capacity for it. If you have just enough and you’re in growth stage, productivity figures flatten out. If you’re slipping from a previous glut of work, productivity figures fall.
And then there is the experience that most of us are familiar with– you have more than you can reasonably do, particularly if you value balance in your life. Your best employees are swamped, your days are stretched, and the satisfaction of completing a job is replaced with the stress of seeing your list of responsibilities grow while you’re trying desperately to finish up the last project. Emails alone can feel like a floodtide that has no end until it drowns you.
Here are three things to try that can change how you think about, feel about and handle too much work:
1. Organize it. Until you have a complete list of all your projects and tasks, it is hard to know whether you’re looking at inadequate time and project management, inappropriate delegation of tasks (to you or others), poor discrimination on your part when accepting responsibility, or a true need to build additional capacity in your team. And without a complete list you are in a weak position to lobby senior leaders to either prune your responsibilities or add positions.
2. Reframe it. Stop catastrophizing the situation with labels that mischaracterize an overabundance of work as “Too much!”, “Drowning!”, “Swamped!” or “Buried!” Your actions, emotions and thinking will tend to follow the views you espouse, so talk to yourself and others using specific, realistic descriptions and solution based statements–“I need to get control of my workflow.” The reality is that you do have an abundance of possible tasks, and they put pressure on you to better manage your work flow and selection.
3. Choose Wisely. Whether you choose your projects or they’re chosen for you the key is to choose wisely.
If someone is pressuring you to take on additional tasks, when you can’t get done what you have on your list and you’re sure that you are already working pretty efficiently, involve the delegator in helping to choose your priorities. Be certain that you both agree on what can get done during your work time.
If you choose your own clients or projects, slow down and choose who and what are going to be the most important in the long run. This is a time to not let urgency-today’s interests or crisis–take precedence over your long-term goals. Having too many projects allows you to raise the quality of your clients, take on the most productive or lucrative ventures and prune out low-return undertakings.
We simply have the time we have. We can invest it in complaining and ineffective processes or we can focus on strategic choices and thoughtful organization. Be clear about what responsibilities you’ve accepted; think and talk about them in realistic, positive terms; and make a commitment to cautiously choose what you add to your plate.
We can help you learn the skills necessary to manage your workflow and to relentlessly implement those skills when the pressure is on.