“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”
– Henry David Thoreau
Miguel had an enormous list of tasks on his to-do list. He’d been working to increase his responsibilities to prove he could handle a leadership role, but now he was having a hard time keeping up with it all. He found himself coming in early and working through lunch in an effort to make it look like he had it all together. He couldn’t just shrug off his existing responsibilities, but he didn’t want to give up the exciting new projects he’d taken on. He simply didn’t seem to have the bandwidth for it all. What was he to do?
I’ve worked with countless clients like Miguel, helping them to reprioritize their work their seemingly endless to-do lists. I begin by reassuring them that time-management strategies like these ones can relieve a lot of their stress.
Weed out the nonessential tasks.
Go through your to-do list with a fine-tooth comb, asking yourself if anything simply isn’t necessary or if you’re spending far too much time on it (think about email time management ). Have practices changed since you first took on a particular responsibility? If you’re not sure whether something is really necessary, ask your boss.
Delegate work that your subordinates are ready to perform.
Just as you’re working to step into a higher-level career, some of your subordinates might be itching to take on new responsibilities, too. Give them a chance to do so by delegating some of the tasks on your to-do list to them. Make sure they align with your employees’ interests and skills. By assigning them appropriate higher-level tasks, you’ll show your confidence in their abilities.
Set realistic deadlines.
If you’re swamped to the point that it’s likely to affect the quality of work you can produce, consider whether you could ask for an extension on a deadline. If a deadline you’ve set was arbitrary, you might ask your boss or client if you can change it to something that feels more manageable. And let this be a lesson to set more realistic deadlines in the future! You can still aim for a shorter turnaround—if you finish ahead of schedule, that will only make you look more competent.
Abstain from pointless meetings.
Do you really need a meeting, or do you need task-management software to keep everyone on the same page? That’s the type of question you should be posing whenever you suspect a meeting is lacking productivity. If the meeting is more of a group check-in about project status and updates, there are plenty of software programs that can help you do that more efficiently. Of course, sometimes you may not have a choice. However, you can certainly push back against the idea that anyone should be able to summon the whole team for an ineffective meeting without any rhyme or reason for it. Saying no is a key time-management strategy, especially when it comes to meetings.
Tackle your passion projects at times of peak energy.
When do you do your best thinking, and when do you have the most energy to tackle the projects you’re most invested in? Do that kind of work when you’re truly excited to do it, not when your energy is low. Otherwise, it will start feeling like a burden rather than bringing you joy and purpose.
As he used these strategies for time management, Miguel soon saw a dramatic improvement. He began diving into his passion projects in the morning, when he felt most energized and creative. He did his most innovative thinking during those hours, and he kept a log of ideas for future projects that arose during that time. As he weeded out unnecessary tasks and other time traps, he found himself less frazzled. And as he talked with his boss about deadlines, he felt more like they were on the same team. After a month of creating new time-management habits, Miguel hardly recognized the stressed-out person he used to be. He eagerly looked forward to coming in to work each morning to delve into projects that challenged and recharged him!
Need expert insight on how to propel yourself to the next level of your career? As one of the top 50 motivational coaches in the U.S., Joel has been doing that for more than 20 years. Contact Joel for coaching today to get started, or read his time management book for more crucial insights.