Master Your Workload: 8 Steps to Take Back Control

By Heather Campbell

I’m continuing to explore three crucial topics that often dominate discussions in my coaching sessions with Directors and senior leaders – managing workloads, getting individuals back on track, and influencing the boss.

Last week we delved into influencing upwards. This week, let’s focus on the challenge of handling burgeoning workloads, a common struggle for leaders.

In my coaching experience, creating space and regaining control are key to tackling workload issues. Here are my top eight steps to help you take charge.

Clear space

Before you can manage your workload, you have to create space to do so. When I’m coaching leaders, we work forensically through the upcoming working month and free up eight hours of working time each week for the next four weeks. We seek to free time in blocks of at least two hours so that there’s enough space to do something useful.

Freeing up this time is about more than just the time itself, it’s about the headspace and the sense of control that you get back. This multiplies the benefits.

What can you stop, postpone, do differently or delegate to free up time?

Fill the time carefully

Having created the space, you now fill it again. Only put in activities that will clear some of the big things that are pulling you down. Initially, this might mean you are eating the frog for breakfast, lunch and dinner as you use these eight hours more fruitfully, but over time, you’ll find that you are working on enjoyable, strategic, value-adding tasks.

What useful tasks can you put into the space you have cleared?

Set boundaries

At this point, leaders always say “But somebody jumps in and slots meetings into the space I’ve freed up”. They will, unless you set clear boundaries.

Inevitably the real problem isn’t simply that other people slot things in – it’s that leaders don’t value themselves enough to protect their time. So this requires a mindset shift – you have the power to control your time, you also have to believe in your right to do so.

What boundaries do you need to set so that you protect your time?

Identify the “ time assassins”

The “time assassins” are those individuals who interrupt your diary frequently and on an ad hoc basis. These are the people who catch up with you for a few minutes, working to meet their agenda, with no regard for yours. Once you start to take control of your diary, it’ll become increasingly clear who they are.

These individuals aren’t necessarily purposely inconsiderate – they’re just focussed on themselves more than they are on you. They need your help to be respectful about how they use your time. So, notice who these individuals are and agree a way of working that’s effective for you, not just for them.

Who are your “time assassins”?

Save some of the good ideas for later

Many leaders I work with have a list of projects underway that is IMPOSSIBLE to complete. They know this list is impossible and yet they keep adding more to it, with everything getting ever more stuck. Working on this one takes courage, but it is worth it. The key is to recognise that, just because something is a good idea, it shouldn’t necessarily be added to the ‘active projects’ list right now.

This is both a mindset shift and a change in practice for most leaders.

Which projects do you need to stop – not for ever, just for now?

Think like a Dane

You’ve no doubt seen the stats that show the Danish workforce is highly productive while working an enviable 37.5 hour week. Managing their working hours means that they have the energy to be productive when they’re at work.

Time after time, research shows that working longer hours does not increase productivity – instead we become increasingly ineffective as our brains become ever more tired. How often have you decided to cut your losses when you’re working on a project and shut your laptop for the day, finding that you complete that impossible task in short order the next day because your brain is refreshed and rested?

There is no research that proves working longer hours makes you more effective – quite the opposite. The question you need to address is what it will take to help you believe this, and act on it?

How about you decide not to “do a few more hours after the kids are in bed” for just a couple of evenings a week and see what happens? How about you decide not to open your laptop all weekend so you give your brain a proper break and see how much more energised you are?

Figure out your ideal

Many leaders I coach know that their current way of managing their workload isn’t working for them, so they know what they don’t want. The thing is, they haven’t stopped to identify what their ideal week (or month) would look like. This lack of focus makes it harder to move towards a more effective way of managing their schedule.

The clearer you are about how you want your working week to be, the more easily you will identify what you need to change in order to make that a reality. Set out a plan and keep it in front of you. Use it to help you get focussed on the right things.

What would your ideal working week (or month) be?

Keep repeating these steps

Steps 1 – 7 are not one-offs. Just as you don’t get fit by going to the gym once or twice, neither will you get on top of your workload if you give this a go once or twice. That’s why number eight is make a habit of the first seven.

Work will keep trying to force its way in. Other people will continually try to steal your time. Colleagues will ask you to add just one more project. That little devil on your shoulder will keep telling you to do ‘just one more hour’ when you know you’re no longer being productive.

The pressures won’t change. But the way you manage them can.

Commit to some good practices and you will find that your workload becomes ever more manageable and you become ever ‘more Dane’.

It all starts with clearing eight hours in your diary! Give it a go and let me know how you get on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}