In this brave new work culture today, we are expected to take on more tasks and fit exponentially more into our workday than ever before. Jobs are shared, budgets cut, and the new concept of utilizing a fractional workforce in order to keep overhead down is being embraced everywhere by entrepreneurs since it is a more effective way of “scaling up”. This can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled in our jobs as we claw through each day where everything feels like a priority. We’ve come up with a handy guide to help you find balance when things at work seem insurmountable and you’re ready to pull your hair out.
1) Make a Time Budget
You have all kinds of things on your calendar. From meetings to deadlines everything looks like a priority, but have you considered expanding that into a full-on budget of your time? Often we leave big open spaces on our calendars when we aren’t in meetings or don’t need to be reminded of events, birthdays, or anything else, but that may not be the more effective use of your time if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
To create a time budget, we need to think about how much time we spend doing our day-to-day tasks. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, at Harvard Business Review, puts it this way:
Hours/Day to Work=24-(Number of Hours of Sleep)-(Commute)-(Personal Commitments)-(Exercise)-(Self Care)
By “personal commitments,” I’m referring to items in your schedule that are an essential part of you feeling fulfilled. These vary from person to person but could include family time, volunteer responsibilities, social activities, or personal passions like playing the piano. Also, eating, showering, and getting ready fall under “self-care.” Once you have a sense of your daily time budget, you can calculate your weekly time budget by adding up the totals for each day. For some people, each day will look similar. For others, their personal commitments create large variations in their day-to-day time budget.
So divvy up all that is not work-related that is consistent in your life:
- Personal Commitments
Once you understand the size of your time budget, then you can evaluate the different time costs during your workday. For example, you have “maintenance” activities like answering e-mail or planning, “execution” activities like attending meetings or completing a report, and “development” activities like networking or marketing. I recommend making a list of all the different elements of your workday and then either writing down an initial time estimate or percentage for each one. For instance, 20% of my workday consists of answering e-mail, 50% of project work, and 30% of development activities. Make sure to not only consider the cost of a particular item but also the associated costs. For instance, a one-hour meeting could come with the related expenses of 15 minutes of travel time each way, 30 minutes of prep, and 15 minutes of follow up. That means that the total expense comes to 2.25 hours. So if you work a 9-hour day and want to spend no more than 50% of your time in meetings, then that limits you to an average of two meetings per day and ten meetings per week.
Now divvy up your work obligations:
- Execution (your main work functions that include meetings, reports, or whatever your job function entrails)
- Development (network and marketing for your company and yourself, professionally)
This may seem like a lot to take on, but there are great resources like RescueTime that can help you track how you are spending your time on your computer. This will help you gauge exactly how you are spending your time at work.
2) Prioritize Your Tasks
You probably already think you’re doing this, but when everything comes up as “DO IT NOW!” it’s time to rethink your strategy.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a great way to help distinguish what needs to be done now vs later. In this model, there is urgent and there is important. Urgent tasks are things we feel need to be done right now, whereas important tasks will push us toward our end goals.
|Urgent and Important
Do it Now
|Important not Urgent
Schedule time to do it
|Urgent, not Important
Delegate it if possible
|Important not Urgent
Forget about it/delete it
Using this matrix will help you decide what needs to be done now vs later. This will also help you show where you can delegate and delete tasks that aren’t essential to you. This also makes your time budget better as you will be more efficiently using your time. Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First has a similar one.
3) Use the 80/20 Principle
Also known as Pareto’s Law, the 80/20 Principle is when 20% of your efforts get you 80% impact, and conversely, what 80% of your effort is getting wasted by 20% of [people, useless tasks, projects, etc.] By focusing on this, you will determine where best to focus in on your efforts. Start by creating two statements:
I get the most impact in my __________ (career, work, finances) by this doing this particular ________ (effort, task, investment). [FOCUS YOUR EFFORTS HERE.]
My time is wasted the most by ________(person, work, finances) by this by doing this particular ________ (effort, task, or investment). [ELIMINATE THIS IF POSSIBLE OR AT LEAST MINIMIZE IT.]
4) Create Efficient Processes
We can’t do everything, so it is important to focus on the most important areas and create efficient processes for the areas we can’t get finish. The master of this is Tim Ferriss. If you have not read his book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or visited his site: http://fourhourworkweek.com/, you should definitely check it out. See examples of processes of efficiency in the next blog “Effective Time Management Processes that Will Bring You Work-Life Balance”.
5) Take a Break in Order to Recreate
If you’re still feeling like you’re underwater at work, take your lunch break. Being able to get out of the office and focus on something other than looming deadlines, meetings, and reports will help you refocus and be more creative. Go for a walk, head to the gym, or just walk down to the corner to pick up a sandwich.
Take a day off to give yourself space to come back to the office with fresh eyes so that you can restructure and organize your work better. And most importantly, don’t forget to get a full night rest. Burning the midnight oil will not help you get more done. In fact, you will be less effective and get less done.
6) Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Yes, we have all been encouraged from a young age to do the best we possibly can on each project, but in reality, that only works in school. When we enter the corporate world we will find co-workers who are getting ahead by turning in reports, giving presentations or finishing projects that are just “good enough”. We become jealous when after we’ve put in all the time and energy into the perfect project while they get moved onto bigger and better things.
The truth is, if we strive for everything we turn in or do to be perfect, we will never get it all done. And if that isn’t enough, it’s not getting us anywhere. We see this when our less perfect co-workers are getting better projects or even promotions. Don’t strive for perfection when you’re completely overwhelmed, strive for good enough. You aren’t letting yourself down, nor are you letting down your supervisor or managers.
7) Talk it Over
We are all afraid of being that person at work, but it can be helpful to talk to your co-workers about your project load when your feeling overwhelmed. Talking it out with someone with a fresh perspective can give you insight into how you can prioritize tasks, and get more done. At the same time, we may be able to get insight on our project or schedule, and you can both benefit from the cathartic morning chat.
8) Talk to Your Supervisor
If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t keep up its time to talk to your supervisor. Come prepared with your time budget, showing your allocation of time for each task, and how you have prioritized different projects. This will help your supervisor understand where you are coming from (not just complaining) and they will be able to help you manage the project better or decide which tasks can be given to different people in the department.
Career Strategist & CEO of Career5
If you want to further your career to a higher place, try strategizing and maximizing your efforts with our guided system: The Career5 Roadmap. It comes free with our career coaching and is a fun process that teaches you how to take control of your career treating it like your own personal business. Think YOU Inc.