Time Management Pt. II: Managing your workload to reduce stress

Manage your workload

Photo: FreeImages.com/Gavin Wood

In the previous post we explored how writing a to do list can help organise your workload. In this article we will look at how to manage your workload so that it doesn’t seem insurmountable. What happens if you have written your To Do list and it’s too long? Perhaps you can’t fit all the tasks into the allocated time. How do we prevent this becoming a common occurrence? How do we cope if our job is consistently taking us more than the normal eight-hour work day to complete? The post focusses on time management at work, but some of the tips apply equally to personal time management.

How we manage priorities and deadlines will vary depending on whether the workload is from our job or personal life. With personal workloads we are “usually” the boss so the deadlines are ours to make. This is not always the case, making a costume for your son or daughters play at school may have a very fixed deadline but for a job like painting the bedroom wall we may be able to live with the old colour a little longer. The key is to prevent the workload becoming overwhelming in the first place but if you have suddenly found the list of tasks overwhelming, the first thing is don’t panic, take a deep breath and review all the items on the list:

  • Check if the priority order is correct
  • Review the estimated timeframe to complete each task is correct
  • Ask yourself if you can negotiate a different deadline with your boss (or yourself).
  • If the scope of the original task changes or workload increases then renegotiate the deadline/timeframe to complete
  • Can you ask someone else to help or delegate

Reduce workload by saying No

Many of us either want to impress the boss or help friends out and are often afraid to say no and let them down. No doesn’t have to be unhelpful or put you in a bad light at work. Consider whether it is better to not take on the extra task knowing you might fail to meet the deadline or to say no in the first place. Handled correctly, saying no to extra work can prove that you have a good handle on your time management, prioritisation and organisation skills.

Tips for saying no to extra work

Be diplomatic, screaming “NO” at the boss as he or she walks in the room won’t score any Brownie points! Ask for time to consider the implications of how the task will fit in with your current schedule before saying yes. Ask for more information, some managers are good at saying “can you just do this little project for me”. Consider asking how long they think it will take, what is involved., when do they need it completed by, what level of stakeholder will see the finished work etc?

Sound positive, say yes, but add that will be able to start it in two weeks or months’ time or request help in prioritising. Indicate that you can do this new task now, but something else on the list may have to be postponed if this task is more important. You haven’t said no, you’ve managed to diplomatically tell your boss how busy you already are. Potentially a win win get out clause

Caveat: you need to judge how each of the above tips fits with your own situation, manager’s personality etc.

Ask for help to manage your workload

It may be better to let someone know early if you are going to miss a deadline or let them down. Ask for extra time or additional support. Give them plenty of time to find someone else or plenty of notice if a deadline is going to be missed.

Delegate work

If you are not in a management position at work then this may not be straightforward but sometimes it is still possible to delegate parts of a task to a colleague, administrative assistant, another department etc.
At home consider if you are doing to many of the chores. Can the kids be given some of your regular daily household tasks to do, great for discipline, getting them away from the X box or perhaps even outside if (think cutting the grass or sweeping the leaves).

Keep Meetings short and to a minimum

Meetings can eat up your day until you have no time left to actually complete any work. Always consider:

  • Is a meeting necessary?
  • Keep attendee numbers to a minimum
  • Consider if you really have to attend – will you have input or just attending for information that you could gain from the minutes
  • Keep accurate minutes
  • Record actions/owners and a timescale to complete – and follow them up
  • Blot out time bands on your calendar so people can’t fill your whole day with invites

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of how to manage your workload – please feel free to add your ideas for better time management.

Further Reading:

Time Management Pt. I: Use To Do lists to plan & improve work life balance

Time Management Pt: III: How to improve your organisation skills

No time to learn anything new or complete your research: hints and tips for faster learning

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