The emails are backed up, the inbox is full, voice mail messages are piling up on both the office phone and the blackberry, the next three days are packed with meetings and two reports are already past due. At this rate, you mutter, “there is no way I am going to get out from under this mess.” Since the layoff of people in the department, the situation is hopeless, even laughable at points.
It would be laughable, except that somewhere, someone is expecting that the work will get done. So, how to begin? I’d like to share some tips to help those who are feeling overwhelmed with the workload, and even with their own expectations of themselves.
Tip # 1: Get the list out of your head and sorted on paper. GE is known for using the 4-blocker (download available in our Samples Kit) as a quick technique to isolate the “vital few.” So take the mess, and sort it into the four squares below:
Tip # 2: Now that the work is sorted into the four piles, it’s important to do some planning. Too often we make the mistake of jumping in and starting a task, only to find out later on that we are off-course. So, as Stephen Covey* reminds us, begin with the end in mind. Set a specific goal for the task/activity and give yourself a deadline for each item. Then program the tasks/activities into your task list in your Outlook program. Be sure to set reminders that will pop up to jog your memory. Print the list regularly so you can say to others, “Let me check .Yup, it’s right here.”
Tip # 3: Get a head start on the day by coming in 15 minutes early to give yourself time to get organized for the day. Have you ever noticed that people who come in just on time, always are bit frazzled? Usually it’s because they instantly see that the early birds are already at work, which then makes them feel late. Just one reminder: if you come in early try not to lose the prep time by talking around the coffee pot, although sometimes that can be very valuable as well. If you’re fighting this idea because it feels like you’re giving your employer more time than deserved, try it for two or three weeks and see if you don’t feel more “on top of” things.
Tip # 4: Eat the frog first. I read this somewhere and use it when I have lots of phone calls or difficult tasks to do. It just means that you take whatever in your mind is the worst task to do, and you do it first. By having the worst over, the rest of the day feels like a breeze. Maybe it’s a return call to an unhappy customer or a discussion with another manager who’s trying to unload a task on you – tackle it first!
Tip # 5: Think yes before saying no. When people are asking you to do things and the overwhelming desire is to scream no, ask yourself instead, is there a part of this that I could do that would add value and yet not require me to take the whole thing on? This can be used in reverse as well: when asked to do something, speak to what you can do rather than taking on the whole task. “Sure I can help with a portion of this project.” You may find that a “slice” is perfectly adequate.
Tip # 6: Know your own pace and stop comparing yourself negatively to others. These days there is a tremendous amount of comparison going on that really isn’t helpful. We chastise ourselves for not being as quick, smart, witty, with it, well read, assertive, or sharp looking as others. The more we beat up ourselves, the less we will feel competent to get things done. It’s important to know your strength – such as being thorough, deliberate, and thoughtful – and play to that strength. Quiet the voice in the head that would suggest otherwise.
No one can make us feel overwhelmed and stressed out. We do that to ourselves. We can also fool ourselves into feeling in control, which will reduce our stress. Try these six tips for the week, and let me how you do.