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09 Jan

Lessen the load first and refine the structure later

Datum: 2024-01-09 12:02
Two stone paths diverge in a grassy field, inviting a choice of direction.

Some­times we sim­ply have too much to deal with. We are already doing what we per­ceive as our very best, and still, we bare­ly fin­ish things on time. 

Just as we have fin­ished some­thing, we real­ize that some­thing else is almost late as well, so we just push on to fin­ish that next task too. The dead­lines which we know are approach­ing are hov­er­ing in the back of our minds, but we will not have time to address them until we have com­plet­ed what we are doing right now — which seems to be tak­ing much too long to finish.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Lat­er, lat­er, later

We know that we prob­a­bly could do some­thing about our sit­u­a­tion, make a change or improve­ment of some kind by alter­ing our struc­ture, but we just do not have the ener­gy since we are sim­ply swamped at the moment. 

We receive an email on Mon­day morn­ing con­tain­ing anoth­er tip on struc­ture we do not have time to imple­ment and try out, and we have been think­ing to our­selves that we real­ly should unsub­scribe from that newslet­ter more than once lately … 

But, maybe things will get eas­i­er and we sud­den­ly have some space, time and ener­gy for mak­ing changes, so we keep the sub­scrip­tion for now.

Mov­ing faster in old tracks

When we have such an over­whelm­ing amount of things we need to deal with imme­di­ate­ly, it might seem as if there is no way we could get an overview of our sit­u­a­tion and refine at least something. 

But stud­ies (for instance this one done at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty by Por­cel­li and Del­ga­do in 2009) indi­cate that we are actu­al­ly par­tic­u­lar­ly open to try­ing new meth­ods and habits when we are under this kind of pressure.

If this all sounds famil­iar, you are right to first ease your work­load some­how, which might sound eas­i­er said than done, before tak­ing steps to refine your work­ing meth­ods and structure. 

I sug­gest you use either a more sys­tem­at­ic and more thor­ough approach to hav­ing less on your plate or a short­cut that is more of an emer­gency solu­tion but which will at least get you above the sur­face long enough to take anoth­er breath.

Let’s have a look at both.

Being thor­ough

You are doing what you do for a pur­pose, and in order to see if that pur­pose is ful­filled, I am guess­ing that you (either on your own or togeth­er with oth­ers) have set goals that you intend to reach. 

Let the goals be the mea­sur­ing stick that you com­pare tasks with when deter­min­ing which ones you should con­tin­ue doing, and which you ought to get rid of — and you will even­tu­al­ly have less­ened your burden.

Look through your one and only to-do list and ask your­self which of all the tasks it con­tains that do not con­tribute to reach­ing the goals you are respon­si­ble for. Try at least find­ing one or a few that you do from time to time.

The task or tasks that def­i­nite­ly do not help you progress can be removed from the list imme­di­ate­ly, you can hire some­one out­side the com­pa­ny to do them or del­e­gate it to a col­league. If you do not have full con­trol over your area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, make sure to check in with your boss before mak­ing any dras­tic changes.

If you want some help, down­load the refin­ing tem­plate I have cre­at­ed, and use it as a tool when deter­min­ing what to do and what not.

Tak­ing the shortcut

If you real­ly do not have the space, ener­gy or time to sift and sort through your tasks, then at least take a minute or two to think about what you have done late­ly that struck you as pret­ty irrel­e­vant or mean­ing­less in terms of your work and areas of responsibility. 

It can be some­thing you said you would help some­one else with, or it can be some­thing you have been doing out of habit for a long time, but which might no longer be part of your job description.

Decide to either stop doing these tasks, hire some­one else to do them or del­e­gate them to some­one else with­in the com­pa­ny. Again, if you need to involve your boss before tak­ing action, do so. Now you will at least have cleared your cal­en­dar of one or a few recur­ring tasks that have been eat­ing your time.

Do this

If you are swamped at the moment and have been for a while, then choose one of the two ways men­tioned above to get some relief.

If you choose to go with the more sys­tem­at­ic approach, then set aside at least an hour in your cal­en­dar as soon as you have some free time, dur­ing which you close the door, turn off your phone and email noti­fi­ca­tions, and look through your to-do-list and project overview for tasks you could and should get rid of. Per­haps you will not sud­den­ly find your­self with some free time on your hands to do this in, so make sure to reserve the time you need in the cal­en­dar as soon as pos­si­ble (since sure­ly you can both con­sid­er this urgent and impor­tant?), and if you need to name the hour you book with your­self, call it Busi­ness plan­ning” or some­thing that make both you your­self and oth­ers that might have access to your cal­en­dar, respect the appointment.

If you need to check in with some­one regard­ing the tasks you decide to get rid of, sched­ule a meet­ing with the per­son in ques­tion soon after this busi­ness planning”.

If you decide to take the short­cut, take a few moments right now to think about what you have been doing recent­ly. Not lat­er, stop and think about it now … Yes, right now. Think of one, even if it real­ly only is one, task that you will no longer do your­self. Check-in with who­ev­er might be in charge or need to be informed on this deci­sion (which could be just yourself).

If you need to do some­thing to stop doing this task, for instance, teach some­one else how to do it instead, define the first step to doing so as a to-do-task and either make a note of it on your to-do-list or do it straight away, and you will have tak­en a first step to decrease your workload.

Won­der­ful relief

When you sim­ply have too much to do, you need to get rid of at least one task that you do reg­u­lar­ly. It can be some­thing small that just takes a few min­utes every time you do it, but it is still a few min­utes you could be using to improve some­thing about your struc­ture. And it will be at least one, even if it is small, thing that is lift­ed off your shoulders.

If you take many small steps often towards refin­ing your tasks and process­es when your work­days are over­whelm­ing, you will grad­u­al­ly regain bal­ance and a man­age­able work­load — with­out cut­ting cor­ners or leav­ing heaps of unfin­ished work behind. 

You will have more time to devel­op your work meth­ods instead of spend­ing all your time and ener­gy putting out fires.

What’s your way?

What is your trick or way of eas­ing the work­load when it is sim­ply too heavy? Share your thoughts with me, please.

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