Overwhelmed? Strategies to Manage Your Time and Workload
Are you feeling overwhelmed at work? You’re not alone, whether you work in government, a non-profit organization or the private sector.
As one recent study in the federal government suggests, people are struggling to keep up with their workload. Employees say they often can’t complete their assigned workload within regular working hours and indicated there are not enough employees to do the work. It’s no surprise then that Practical Time and Workload Management is one of PMC’s most popular courses.
While not all the causes of your situation are in your control, you can control how to respond to them. Here are some of the things you can do to make sure you are making the best possible use of your time.
1. Start with a review of how you are using your time now
Take a couple of weeks to track the time you are spending in all tasks or activity areas. Don’t forget time spent on personal items. Are there tasks someone else would be better suited to perform? Items you could stop doing or do a different way?
2. Set goals and priorities that are important to you
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Decide on your short, medium and longer-term goals in your job, your career, and your family and personal life. Use the SMART model – set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Write your goals down and post them where you will see them every day – on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, etc. Update your goals regularly.
3. Don’t procrastinate
Ask yourself, “What are the one or two things that, if I accomplished them today, would really help me achieve my goals?” Then get them done!
4. Learn how to say no
It is a fact of life that the more you can accomplish, the more that will be expected of you. But not all requests or demands are reasonable.
The next time your manager wants to add another project or task to your already overloaded schedule, try saying, “I’d be happy to handle that, but realistically I can’t take it on now without foregoing some other projects I’m working on. Which of tasks A, B or C would you like me to do?”
It’s of course much easier to defend your calendar if you have your priorities firmly established (see Tip #2).
5. Control interruptions
Phone calls, drop-in visitors, unscheduled meetings, crises, mail, emails and self-imposed interruptions can eat up hours every day. Interruptions can’t be totally eliminated but they can be better controlled.
Defend your calendar and be firm (but polite) with coworkers who repeatedly interrupt with non-urgent discussions. Ask them to make a list and schedule a one-on-one once they have several things to discuss or to approach you when they have something time-sensitive.
6. Take steps to tame the email monster
A proactive approach (as opposed to working reactively), is to write down your top three tasks that would make this day productive. Before even looking at your email, know what you want to accomplish. You may not always succeed, but if you don’t know what your goals are, you’re much more likely to spend the day reacting to someone else’s crises.
When you check your email first thing in the morning, quickly scan for and respond to any urgent items and then move on to your own tasks right away. This is especially important if you’re a morning person and have the most energy early on. Don’t waste that energy spending hours on email.
It’s ideal if you can select one or two times during the day when you will receive and respond to your email messages – just be sure to inform those who regularly email you. The best time is a half hour before lunch and the end of the day since you will be more ruthless with your time.
Treat email just like regular mail – throw out the garbage and prioritize the rest. And remember, a phone call may be more efficient and avoid misunderstanding since email is no substitute for conversation, especially when tone needs to be conveyed.
Want to learn more time management and productivity strategies?
PMC offers a number of training courses that can give you practical tools, skills and knowledge to help you manage your time and workload more effectively, including: