Too Much on Your Plate7 minute read
Few executives, leaders, or workers describe having white space on their calendar or flexibility in their day. I sometimes feel like I manage to accomplish one task, and there are three more to replace it. From our discussions with other leaders, this is common. Almost everyone is wanting to know how to function better when there is too much on the plate.
There are times when you probably feel like every assignment in the company is headed to your inbox. What’s important is to use tools to support yourself, and the business, in a healthier way. This ensures that you get the work done that is the best fit for your position, and that the company is making progress without you or team members becoming repeatedly exhausted and making errors. With the “Great Resignation” still rolling strong, team members who are continually worn out and frustrated may just quit.
Remember that not changing anything in your current process means that tasks are being repeatedly delayed, creating problems for you, for your work partners, for the business, and for customers. It’s time to do something different!
Here are seven options to start using today, which form the acronym TRODDDS:
Instead of saying “yes” or “no” to the entire job, say yes to specific parts of it, with others doing the rest. Now you’re owning a piece of it, and helping, without doing everything. You may select components where you have unique skills and are intentionally not working on the bits where others can pitch in.
If you find yourself doing things and you say to yourself, “How did I wind up doing this when this isn’t even my job?” then you missed a chance to reassign a task to the group or person where it belongs. Almost everyone has been asked to do something that they are capable of doing, and not responsible to do.
Ask yourself, “Who does this task really belong to?” If you realize that it’s Walter, then tell the person bringing you the task, that it actually belongs to Walter (or XYZ department). The key step is to not “take the monkey” and agree to hand the job over to someone else. Ensure that they do it. This keeps you from being the middle man, which can consume as much time as the job itself. It also stops you from accidentally creating a pattern of reassigning work on behalf of someone else.
Lots of leaders will be quick to say, “What we want done is too specialized/sensitive/whatever to have someone else do it, so we’ll just keep it in-house.” Often that’s a thin excuse for:
- “We’re not comfortable outsourcing this simply because we’ve never done it,” or
- “We haven’t spent the time to research who else can do this,” or
- “We don’t want to spend the money to outsource this.”
There are lots of businesses that can help with specialized activities, so be honest with yourself and the team about the possibilities. One option that is being utilized more often is to hire former or retired team members on a part-time basis. They know the work and the team and may be interested in helping in a limited capacity. You may pay them more on an hourly basis, and you’re creating more capacity than you had before. It’s worth exploring.
Remember that you likely outsource all kinds of tasks in your personal life…figuring out your taxes, mowing the lawn, painting some rooms a new color. You have the skill to do these things, though you recognize it’s a poor use of your time to do them, so you don’t. Bring that mentality to the office!
It can be tempting to keep a task on your plate, instead of delegating it to one of your direct reports. You may even say to yourself, “If I ask Jason to do this, he won’t do it the same way as me”. There are two important things that pop up in that statement. The first is a bit of hubris that you are so good at a task that others couldn’t do it as well. I’ve caught myself in this before (as do lots of leaders) and been pleasantly surprised when someone else did that job even better than me, once I got my ego out of the way.
The second part of this is that you’ve identified a key task to teach others that will help them advance their career and become more skilled in support of the business. They may not currently be ready for the whole thing; in which case, have them do the parts they are capable of now, and then gradually teach them the rest. Consider what happens when you’re on vacation, or out sick. Business doesn’t stop, and relying on one person for a critical task is irresponsible.
For a lot of people, this is the least used and most uncomfortable because you’ve learned to say “yes” way too much. If you are in a position of leadership in an organization, you likely got there by doing your part and then some. When we’re young, we’re taught that go-getters say “yes.” Agreeing to do more than your share helps you until it creates problems. Your pattern of repeatedly saying “yes” has created the overloaded situation you’re in now.
This is the second most underutilized option. When you are presented with a fresh assignment that you know belongs to you, be sure to ask questions about what’s driving the deadline. Some leaders we work with have specific legal deadlines that aren’t changeable. Plenty of other deadlines can be extended by simply asking. Even the IRS gives extensions, so there’s a chance you may be able to get one. That may be as simple as saying, “OK, I can do that if we push the deadline from the 10th to the 24th. How does that work?”
Yup, this happens way more than you realize. This is one of the first things to do since you are the one who is piling more on the plate. Your pattern of jumping up is reinforcing the very issue that you’re in. If you feel weird about not raising your hand, be sure to label what’s happening so others aren’t surprised. You may say “part of me wants to volunteer to help, and the bigger part of me knows I have too much on my plate to give this the attention and time it requires. I don’t want to attempt to squeeze this in and do an incomplete job.”
One option to consider in any situation is to mix and match these tools together. It may feel uncomfortable at first, which is totally normal. You’re working on the biggest hurdle to using these tools, which is changing your own mindset. Continue to focus on the fact that you don’t work 24 hours a day, that you have specific responsibilities, and that you’re part of a bigger team with more options.
If you keep stacking more and more on your plate, you’re going to wind up disappointing others when you fail to deliver. That will likely come long after you’ve disappointed yourself by working too much, missing time with the family, and doing other things that you love. Care for yourself enough to start doing something different, and create some balance for yourself.
You’re totally worth it!