What to do when...you have too much on your plate (at work)




Like the sandwich in this photo - sometimes you can just have too much on your plate to deal with. And it really does require you to sit back and work out how you are going to attack it - rather than the alternative of plunging in and ending up with it all over your face (clothes, floor etc. - you get the picture!)

In the work context you can have multiple requests from your boss, colleagues, and other important stakeholders - topped off with customer issues, emails and your regular workload. Not to mention from numerous other sources!

Because it comes at you from so many different angles - there might not even be anyone else who is aware about how things are piling up for you.

Which is why it's your responsibility, if you're going to get anything done (not to mention, done well) - to call time out and work out how you are going to tackle what's on your plate.

Here's some ideas about what to do when that happens:

Work out what is the most important

When you make what is most most important your priority it will help you decide how best to focus your time and attention.

Brief your Manager

A discussion  with your manager to let them know how much you have on is always a good investment in time - as they can help you manage expectations that other people have of you or even (hopefully) provide some assistance to help you.

It's always good to go to your manager with a solution rather than a problem. So it could be, "I have to focus on these areas and I need your assistance with..." - which is a good approach if it is very clear what the priorities should be. It's also good to ask if they agree with how you have prioritized - as when they do - you know you have their support for your approach.

If they don't and they give you different priorities - this will be valuable feedback. Either way you should end up with a clearer view of what is most important.

If everything seems 'equally' important or it's not within your delegation to make the decision - explain your workload and competing priorities to you manager and ask them, "What are you three most important priorities for me to focus on?"  

As you work through this discussion with them - a very clear view of what you should be doing should emerge.

Negotiate time frames

Sometimes it's not about how much you have to do - but that everything is due at the same time. Discuss with the people who are expecting deliverables from you what is due and when. There may be the opportunity for the scope to be redefined, the work reassigned or the due dates to be moved out.

If you have agreed other priorities with your manager and are not going to get something done for someone else - go back to them and explain why and provide them with alternatives of when you could deliver. Or someone else who could do it for them. Just leaving requests and not managing expectations with stakeholders will have a negative impact on your reputation - as others do not know why you have not responded to them or completed a task.

Manage your email

Avoid  unnecessary distractions from email by turning off the automatic email notifications function so that when you are working on something you are only focusing on that one thing.

If you are working on a complex task or a short time frame - put an automatic out-of-office-response on your email to say that you are working on what-ever-it-is and that you will only be checking your email at whenever-you-will-be. If you do this it is always good to provide an alternate way to contact you (a phone number of text for instance) - as someone may need to contact you about what you are working on... or what is not your priority is someone else's and they need to be pointed in the right direction to get some help.

Simplify your expectations of yourself

Don't expect that you can - or even want - to do everything.

One thing delivered well will do much more for your credibility than many things delivered adequately (or worse!).

Be kind to yourself and realistic about how much even you can actually do!

Have a cup of tea

You don't actually have to have a cup of tea (although I do like the idea) - but stepping away from your desk and taking the time out to boil the kettle, brew the tea and wait for it to cool enough to take a sip - can be just the break you need to step away from a situation and stop feeling overwhelmed.

Time-out can be a very good thing!

These tactics can all work - so if you are feeling overwhelmed I would encourage you to give them a go!

Have you got any more ideas about what to do when...you have too much on your plate at work? Please share...

Let's chat...
- Karen





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