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Coping With A Heavy Workload

It’s not unusual for even the most adept project manager, with the firmest grip on organisation, to fall victim to the occasional overwhelming workload. This is especially true for managers who always say “yes” to more work, aiming to demonstrate their value, or to impress the stakeholders in a project. If you are taking on too many jobs though, it’s inevitable that you will end up with deadlines chasing faster than you can outrun them.

Emails and tasks stacking up? Losing sight of valuable planning time for all the firefighting? Then this blog is for you. But beware, seizing control of your circumstances may require some self-reflection and rethinking of deep-rooted beliefs you may have about work.

Asking for help is a strength

There is often a perception that asking for assistance is somehow a sign of weakness or incompetence. Some people take that idea even further in thinking that saying no, or pushing back, will reflect badly upon themselves. Never mind that taking on more than you can cope with is far more likely to effect results negatively …

Rather than seeing it as a weakness, instead realise that asking for help can be a major strength. Ultimately you will know when you’re not able to give your best to the given task. So asking for help is really the ability to act on behalf of your projects’ welfare, by knowing your own natural limitations. And remember, “help” can come in various guises. Consult with your co-workers, see who’s able to pitch in, or rest in the knowledge that somewhere along the chain there is a boss or manager who will take decisions, guide and support you when you are stuck.

Delegation is great

Turning the tide on your workload can be as easy as getting a project administrator on board, or directly delegating to other team members. Doing so can free time for you to work on a project’s more important parts. A project administrator, for example, will save you a lot of time on tasks such as time sheet approval, weekly reporting and financial tracking. This is all essential work, of course.But a manager might be persuaded that it’s not essential that you do it if you can convince them of the extra value that will be gained for your project.

It’s important to note that delegating is also a fantastic opportunity to develop those members of your team. There is an old rule of business though, called the “80/20 Rule”, which you should use here. The rule states that you should first determine what the 20% of your activities are which contribute to 80% of your project’s results. That 20% is where your focus should be. The 80% that remains is yours to delegate and assign as you like.

Prioritise importance, not urgency

If you are caught feeling like a firefighter in an endless forest blaze, the key is to shift your priorities. Begin every day with those big, important – and often ugly – tasks, the ones that really get results and will mark the success of your project.

Don’t use your morning time on anything other than this solid work. Don’t answer emails or try to shut down your littlest jobs. Instead, use it on strategic work such as finishing the business case, planning for the future, reviewing current risks or having that long-dreaded tricky talk with a co-worker.

Getting those most important activities done in the morning, while your mind is fresh and alert, will prove to be a boon to your productivity and the results you’ll see.

Plan with others

Many project managers are resistant to delegation, sometimes because they’ve been convinced that they have to know everything and do everything alone. It is often seen as a rigid certainty, for instance, that the project manager plans and tracks the project. But planning with others, or “collaborative planning”, can be exactly what you need to engage your team and promote closeness through shared responsibility.

Doing everything solo is exhausting for you, inefficient for the project, and disenfranchising for the team. Consider instead how you will make proper use of others. Allowing the team to plan collaboratively and take joint responsibility for aspects of the project has been shown to increase morale and productivity in the right circumstances.

Share your thoughts

Finally, it’s always good advice to avoid the bottling up of feelings and frustrations.  Find someone with whom you can talk about the situation. Avoid burnout (or worse, project failure) by getting it off your chest. Speak with your manager or, if that seems too difficult, seek out a trusted colleague or mentor. If you really want to work it through in-depth, find a professional coach who can support you. Whatever you do, don’t suffer silently. You could be just around the corner from regaining the upper hand on your workload …