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08 Apr

How much is much?

Date: 2014-04-08 11:46 Comments: 0 st

One of my structure-mentees had too much to do.

When her boss asked her how she was doing, she replied: ”Well, it is simply too much right now. In the next months to come I am in charge of processing twelve cases!”. Her boss was not very involved in the details of her work, so to him “twelve cases” did not sound like or mean much more than it does to you right now, you who have no idea what she does and what this signifies.

He asked: “In what way is this too much?” My mentee almost froze. She was not able to describe the situation more vividly than that it was simply overwhelming and “too much”, and she felt stressed by his response. The conversation did not result in much more than a pad on the shoulder and she was left with still having too much to do.

Let us spreadsheet:ize
When I met her we quickly realized that we needed to make it clear to her boss how much twelve cases really was. We listed all the to-do-tasks a case required in a spreadsheet, as well as how many minutes each task took to complete. We arrived at an approximated sum of work-hours required for each case, multiplied that time with the number of cases and arrived at the total amount of hours she would need in the next months to come to process all cases.

To make matters worse, she was only able to spend an hour a day on “processing cases” since she had many other things to do as well. We did the math and concluded that she would be finished with the twelve cases in six months if she worked at the speed of one “case-processing”-hour every day. The problem was that she needed to meet the deadline for the last case in three months.

In order to meet the deadline she hence needed to work an extra “case-processing”-hour every day. No wonder she was feeling stressed. And now it was no longer just a feeling. It was now made tangible and measurable. She had at least nine hours of work to do in eight hours. This was much easier to present and describe to her boss.

When you feel that you have too much to do, concretize how much time that is actually required and how much time you have. This way you will give yourself some definite figures to work with and it will be easier to find tasks you can reduce in size or delegate to others to have less on your plate. It will also be easier for others to understand your situation and help you ease your burden. 

Do this
Today I am letting you choose between two tasks.

  • Either... you take out your to-do-list and make an approximation of how many minutes you need to complete every task on the list at the moment. Sum the numbers and get a feel for what your work-load is at the moment measured in minutes (keeping in mind that new things will most likely be added throughout the day).

    Try to portion out the tasks in a matrix organized by when they need to be completed so that you can divide the hours you have at your disposal in a work-week between the tasks. Count on that you will need plenty of time for unforeseen events and tasks. Speaking for myself, I always count on needing ten “empty” hours every week for all the extra things that show up, problems and obstacles I need to resolve, spontaneous ideas and hours spent in traffic when I cannot work.

  • Or… choose one of the more extensive recurring tasks you are responsible for completing (such as my mentee had). Make an overview of it by breaking it down into the to-do-tasks it usually consists of and put a figure (in minutes) on each one. Multiply the total amount of time required for doing the task with the number of times you do the task in a certain interval of time, and then compare this to the time you actually have at your disposal during the same time-period. 

Are you coming up with a reasonable work-load? Will the next weeks be comfortable or terribly stressful?

If you need to reduce your work-load in the long-run, then you can for instance use my refinement-tool, which you can download at

Something tangible
If you follow my instructions to identify and concretize what the term “much” really signifies, or do so in some other way, you will suddenly have something tangible to work with. You are no longer fumbling in the dark lead by an unpleasant feeling, but will instead be able to take action and do something about the situation - either by yourself or together with your boss.

How do you make it explicitly clear?
How do you concretize what you do and hence enable yourself to describe it to others? Visualizing abstract situations is something I have a keen interest in, so I am more than curious to see (!) what your particular way to depicting your situation is. Leave a comment describing your best tip!

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