No matter what stage in life you are in, things can get hectic and overwhelming. As soon as you have more than one thing to do, you need to manage your time and prioritize. At work, in many jobs, there is ALWAYS more you could do. So, how can you deal with that without killing yourself?
Start by having good time management practices. Use your calendar – not only to book meetings with others but to block out time to do important tasks. Know the meetings on your calendar. Which meetings do you need to prepare for? Which meetings absolutely require your presence?
Be militant with your agenda. Set guidelines for the times that you are willing and able to take meetings, with a standard morning start time and evening end time. Start negotiating the time of meetings (and the length!) to fit your limits. Know when it is necessary to accept an exception – it will happen but it should be just that, the exception and not the rule.
The same goes for planning out tasks. If you block time to do an important task, protect it and don’t just give it away at the first request. Put yourself in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. If you can’t do that, use a “Do not Disturb” sign to signal to those around you that you need to be uninterrupted.
All that is well and good but what about the unplanned requests and tasks? Everything that comes up seems to be urgent and practically overdue before you even get started. How do you weigh the priorities of the different tasks you have to accomplish?
There are several scales to think about as you weigh the priority of your to do list. The first is urgency. What is the due date? How much time will it take to do it? What’s the latest you can get started and be timely? Consider the various due dates on your actions and you can prioritize by due date and time to get done. But that’s not enough.
The second is importance. Is the task strategic or tactical? What is the impact if this task is not done? If it’s not done on time? Who is asking for it? Assess the level of importance of the task and the potential consequences of not doing the task. Make sure you understand what the purpose (or end goal) is and not just the task you are being asked to fulfill. Many deadlines can be moved and it’s important to get a sense of whether or not deadlines are fixed due to dependencies or whether they were randomly picked. Some tasks may have little or no consequence if they are not done.
When considering who is asking for the work to be done, I would suggest some caution. It’s not about systematically prioritizing what the big bosses want. Yes, it’s an important consideration if a high-level executive is requesting something. However, the implications of not meeting some peer deadlines may have high consequences down the line, so never decide based on who is asking with no other context.
Once you have looked at all this, you can reshuffle your priorities and your time to accommodate it. But how can you make time? There are a number of ways.
1) Learn to say no – some tasks that you are requested to do may be “nice to have” but not critical compared to the rest of your task list.
2) Cancel meetings which are not time sensitive when you have an exceptional fire drill
3) Shift priorities – take over a time slot which was meant for another, less urgent task. Don’t forget to reschedule the task you are stealing the slot from, unless you decide elimination is the way to go.
4) Consider “good enough” solutions to requests – understanding the end goal of a request is important. Sometimes, more work is requested than is needed to meet the goal. Some people are perfectionists and will systematically go deeper and provide more polish than is required. A request for an in-depth report may hide the need for a specific number. Data from last week which has already been analyzed may be good enough to give someone a glimpse into the trends they need to understand. Understand when you can do less and still meet the end goal.
5) Don’t be a slave to instant messaging and email – responsiveness is great, but it’s not always needed by return. When you have a vital task to accomplish, turn your instant messaging to Do Not Disturb while you work. Ignore email notifications which pop up on your screen. Focus on the task at hand and go back to your new messages later.
Don’t let you’re your tasks and priorities manage you. Take charge and start managing your time and priorities more effectively! Having trouble? Get a coach to help!