The Ultimate Productivity Guide:
How To Set Clear Boundaries While Managing Your Exploding Workload
Any of these sound familiar?
– My inbox is overflowing and still being flooded with new requests.
– My resources are stretched more than ever before.
– Outsourcing of my business area is a growing possibility.
And, if you’re good at your job and valued by your superiors, I’m sure that you’re being asked to do more…with less.
And, if there’s a lot on your plate, there’s more on theirs’ (here’s a secret – they’re thinking of what’s on their plate, not yours).
According to Odgers Berndtson, 94% of executives reported that they made themselves available to answer emails day and night (60% keep device handy at night).
Add personal commitments to societal pressure and this issue has reached boiling point (busy = important; stress = hard work).
The need for solutions has never been greater.
Critical Leadership Scenario
You’re a defensive midfielder and captain of your soccer team. Your coach and teammates look to you for guidance on and off the field.
This season you’ve been asked to play at a position that feels somewhat unnatural. You now have to cover a much larger area on the pitch. Although you welcomed the challenge at first, you see now that you were unprepared for it – tactically and physically.
To make matters worse you’ve often been frustrated by the lack of support from your team mates – “Where is everybody and what the hell are they doing!?”
You’ve wondered why the coach hasn’t stepped in and made some needed changes at critical moments.
You’ve also been playing at less than full speed with a nagging knee injury. However, you continue to play through the pain.
Despite the pain killers and post-match ice treatments, it’s growing worse with each match. Nevertheless, the coach keeps asking more of you and the expectations of everyone continue to skyrocket.
Next week you’ve got a big game coming up and the match result will affect your playoff chances. In other words, it’s a “must-win”.
What do you do?
Now let’s go back to your pressing challenge and look at how you can take back control of your situation…
5 Simple Steps
Here’s the challenge you face:
Be highly productive and efficient while fulfilling all job tasks/responsibilities.
Here’s a solution you can utilize:
To boost your productivity and free up time for your key priorities, take this strategic approach to setting clear boundaries and managing your workload:
Step 1: Look at the Big Picture
Before you can change anything you first need to understand the situation and the reasons why you’re being asked to do so much (e.g. merger, new structure).
To put the situation in a broader context, ask yourself these 2 questions:
Question 1: Is your increased workload a temporary situation or is it systemic?
If it’s short-term, decide if it’s discomfort you can live with (if so, find a way to deal with it – the recognition that it’s not forever helps).
It could also be a chance for you to step up and shine (e.g. a leadership vacuum). See it as an opportunity.
Question 2: Are people taking advantage of you or are they turning to you because they trust you and value your work?
Change the narrative from: “My boss is always taking advantage of me” to “My boss has a lot of confidence in my ability to get things done and do them well”.
Step 2: Ask for support
If you’re having trouble managing your workload, ask your team members and superiors for help.
Asking your superior to help you prioritize your work can help you in 2 ways:
- First, it helps you communicate the situation in a clear way.
- Second, it creates transparency which can lead to alternative, even better solutions.
Remember, they don’t know all that’s on your plate and probably don’t have the time to find out.
If you were a soccer coach, would you go around before the match and ask all the players how they were doing, feeling, etc.?
Probably not. You’d expect them to come and tell you if they had a sore ankle or were feeling sick.
If they didn’t, the overall team results could be catastrophic.
Asking for support will help you take the next step.
Step 3: Communicate your Big Picture
Take the time to clearly communicate the reality of your situation. Explain how taking on more will affect other deadlines and priorities.
You can also offer to find others who could support instead of you (another opportunity to step up and shine).
Can you spot the difference here?
- “I can’t handle any more – sorry, my plate is full.”
- “If I take on this new project I won’t be able to hold my other deadlines that we set together. Would you like to shift our priorities or is there someone else who could help us out on this?”
There’s a big difference between pushing back and making your supervisor aware of everything that’s on your plate and the consequences of reshuffling.
Tip: The key is to stay involved in the solution. Suggesting other team members for the work shows you are a team player and focused on the good of the team or group.
Step 4: Think before accepting
Before accepting something new, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Do I have the time and energy capacity for this?
- How will it affect my other tasks and priorities?
- Am I the best person for this or is there someone else we can enlist?
If you accept, here are 2 more:
- Are the deadlines realistic or do I need to ask for more time?
- Do I have the resources and support I need?
Tip: Do not accept and then ask for a time extension later. This would not reflect well on you. Have the courage to say at the beginning how much time you need.
Step 5: Recognize busyness as a choice
According to “Are You Addicted to Doing?”, busyness is the new laziness. The busier you are and keep yourself the less you’re confronted with critical questions and issues.
In other words, busyness allows you to avoid uncomfortable questions (e.g. Have I chosen the right career? Is this meeting worth missing this family event?)
Sure, everyone has to work, clean, shop, care for family, etc. At times, these personal and professional commitments can feel all-consuming. In most cases, however, you have the freedom to choose how busy you are.
The next time you feel super busy, ask yourself:
- What’s keeping me busy? And is it worth it (health, family)?
- Are there things on my plate I can or should let go?
- And am I busy with must-do things or busy with activities both big and small?
This approach will enable you to set clear boundaries and manage your workload while BOOSTING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY.
To recap, here it is again:
- Get clarity on the situation – is it temporary or permanent?
- Ask for the support you need – even if it’s just advice or brainstorming.
- Communicate the Big Picture to your supervisor and collaborators, involve them if necessary.
- Before saying “yes”, ask yourself those 3 critical questions and have the courage to speak up.
- Be aware of what’s causing your busyness and the consequences of it.
Keep in mind that the better you perform, the more people will ask you to do (with increased expectations). Furthermore, overflowing inbox, stretched resources & outsourcing will only increase in the coming months and years.
So start using this approach today to free up more time and energy for WHAT REALLY MATTERS.