Too much work and too little time! It’s a problem shared by many of us at some point in our working lives. There will always be those who regularly profess their busyness, as a means of proving their own importance (see my previous blog on workload boasting). However, for many people in leadership positions it’s an all too common situation for them to be genuinely drowning in work, with no obvious way out.
When I coach leaders, stuck in a mire of ever increasing workload, I find that they only begin to identify solutions when they start to dig deep and pin point the root cause of the issue. Some simple questions can be hugely effective to kick off some honest thinking.
1. What is your priority?
You may be tempted to claim that everything is a priority. Really? This type of response opens up an opportunity for further digging…..
What would happen if you didn’t complete that piece of work today?
What can wait until tomorrow or even next week?
You might miss the original deadline or perhaps annoy a key stakeholder but by showing good leadership, sound communication and managing expectations early on, you can easily minimise the impact.
Setting priorities involves making difficult decisions and sometimes taking the odd considered risk. You might not keep everyone happy but you’ll be freeing up your time to complete the work that will have the biggest business impact. You’ll also reduce your own stress levels.
2. What are your goals?
Do you dive straight in each morning, hoping that today, you might make a small dent in your workload? STOP!
If there’s one thing you choose to do differently, it’s ask yourself “What do I want to achieve today?”. Review your work and plan what you can realistically do within normal working hours. That’s your focus and you need to show disciplined leadership to not stray too far from this plan.
If something unexpected crops up, don’t panic. Review your goals and priorities and make adjustments based on your knowledge and experience. Then move ahead again with your new strategy.
3. Who can help?
It’s a misconception that you’re a leader because only you can deliver great work. Have pride in your own good standards but be under no illusion that others can do the same. Good leadership is about effective delegation and providing opportunities for others. So look at your team and identify a suitable person to support you with that task.
Who might have the time to take on some more work?
Who has ambitions to progress?
This might be a great development opportunity for someone, so why not give them a chance. But don’t just dump and run! Make your expectations clear and realistic, so they don’t end up in the same boat as you. Then relax and trust that they will deliver some great outcomes.
4. Where are you adding most value?
How do you spend your average day?
Where are you creating most value for your organisation? The answer to this gives you a good clue on where you need to be focussing more of your energy.
Those more wasteful activities can start to take a back seat. You might want to look at meetings for example. These provide a great chance to discuss important issues with colleagues but exactly how much of that meeting time is spent productively?
Take control. Plan your contribution beforehand and make sure there’s always a clear and well managed agenda. And here’s the real leadership challenge – How would it feel to question your attendance at all meetings? You’re the leader but do they really need you there all the time?
If you trust your team to make decisions and escalate when needed, then this might be the perfect way to free yourself up to create real value elsewhere.
5. What does efficient look like to you?
It feels great to clear your emails at the start of each day and ‘keep on top’ of them as they continue to flow in. But how often does one simple request escalate to a chain of 30 emails involving half the company? Is this the most efficient way to resolve an issue?
A lengthy email exchange provides impressive audit trail. But if you could resolve the problem in 10 minutes by picking up the phone or arranging a 10 minute meeting, how would that change things for you?
Sometimes it’s good to embrace the ‘old-school’ and avoid the urge to email. So before you hit ‘send’, keep focussed on today’s plan and ask yourself …….How can I resolve this fast and efficiently?
Changing your leadership approach to high workload may feel uncomfortable and difficult to maintain at first. You’ve probably been well practiced in doing things this way for some time. But if you’ve finally reached that tipping point where something has to give, try a new strategy and keep at it until it sticks.