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How to Manage When the Workload is Unmanageable

By Tanya Wigmore posted 08-03-2018 07:05 PM

Being a woman, especially being a mom, might mean that you're a highly skilled project manager, master negotiator, and deadline destroyer. But when you're consistently crushing it you will likely get asked for help more often, to do more work on top of your regular workload and to volunteer for events and committees. So how do you manage when things become unmanageable without sacrificing your work, your family and yourself? 

1. Stop Saying "Yes"

Women receive 44% more requests to volunteer than men. When asked to help, men agree 51% of the time; and women agree 76% of the time. I'm not sure if this is because we're to be asked or feel bad about turning people down, but it's alarming. If you're stretched thin already, really think about what might suffer as a result of taking on this request to volunteer. Or, prequalify what types of things you want to be involved in and turn down all the things that don't align with your personal or professional goals. You might feel a bit of guilt for turning someone down, but it's going to feel a lot better than the resentment of saying yes.

2. Delegate the Important Stuff

As hard as it is to let them go, give away the things on your list that need to get done now. You have too many things that need to get done and realistically, you can't do them all in the timeline that you have. Even when you feel like you're the sole person who can execute on this, you're likely not. Stop being the bottleneck.   

3. Don't Respond to Email

You're a smart and helpful person and people send you emails when they have questions. Most of the time these people can figure it out themselves. Not replying to that email right away gives people the time to figure it out and there are many things that will no longer need you to do them if you just let them sit a minute.  

4. Accept that Some Things Will Never Get Done

Once you come to accept this, identify which things you'd like those to be and then remove them from your list. It could be the 75 browser tabs of articles and webinars you're planning on reading or that thought leadership blog post that you keep putting off. Cross them off and move on. 

5. Block Your Calendar

Block a few hours in the morning with zero distractions to get things done. Don't let people pull you into meetings, don't take calls, don't answer emails. If you have to adjust your day so that you come into the office before anyone else because it's the only way you have a chance to not be disturbed, do it. You will accomplish more when you can give it 100% of your attention.  

6. Ruthlessly Prioritize

Pick 3 things that absolutely need to get done today and do them. Recognize and accept that it means that the other things will not get done today. This helps not only to give you more clarity on the real priority items from your list but it also makes you commit to execution. An additional benefit is that it allows you to be more clear with others about when things may be completed ("today" or "not today" vs. "as soon as I get a chance"). If you've blocked the time to do your priority items, you're setting yourself up for a win!

7. Look at the Big Picture

Why are you so busy? Is it that just that the stars aligned and it will pass or is this an ongoing issue? Sometimes we just need to bear down and push through it, but sometimes the real cause of the stress is that there are bigger things at play. Being understaffed in the office, under-assisted at home, or just being in over your head could be causing and sustaining this. Addressing those issues will help make things manageable. 

8. Refocus Your Priorities

Your job is important and needs to get done, but it's not all you have. Your physical and emotional health, your family, your social life and other facets of your life need your attention, too. Thinking about these other areas of your life can help you identify things you need to walk away from. As an example, if you're skipping the gym each day to try and cram in more work, your physical health is going to suffer. While this can be a short-term play, the long-term impact is likely not what you want.

8. Step Away

There is no shame from uncommitting. Special projects at work, volunteer roles, and other elective commitments might actually benefit from your departure if you've been struggling to give 100%. When things calm down, you can reassess how you want to allocate your time. 

Work/life balance is something that modern professionals struggle with, a lot. Thinking we can "have it all" is akin to trying to do it all and is a quick way (or a long and painful way) to burn out. Take your lunch break, take vacations, and take a serious look at what you can do to control the number of things on your plate. In the end, you'll be glad you did.


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