Overwhelming Workload – How do you deal with it?

Senior people in organisations have a lot to do. In fact, my experience of working with senior managers and executives across a range of industries is that they have more to do than the time available to do it in and it’s never-ending and relentless!

I know for myself, when I experience overwhelm i.e. ‘too much to do’, my automatic response is to work in a way to get through it all, head down, bum up. Problem is that when I follow this approach I never actually ‘get through it all’ and I’ll rush and take short cuts. This leads to incomplete work, mistakes and in some cases, disaster.

So now I have more to do – redoing work, putting out fires caused by the incomplete work and dealing with the fallout. I think that most senior managers would recognise what I am talking about.

You might ask “What’s the answer?”

As much as I would like to say that there IS an answer, in my experience there is no prescriptive answer that will address all scenarios. However, I do have some places that you can think from in working out your own solutions. Here are a few –

  1. If you have more to do than you have available resources (time, staff, budget etc..) then this must lead you to the conclusion that you have to choose what you are going to do and what you are not going to do. Trying to get everything done when you know that you don’t have the resources does 2 things – you live in hope (rather than reality) and work in ways that are less productive (rush, take short cuts, delegate badly, avoid etc..).Make a conscious choice about what you are going to do and what you are not going to do or not going to do now.
  2. Work in a way to complete a task. It takes a certain amount of time to complete a task properly. Take that time, plan for it to take that time. Work in a way that it will not come back to you or have unintended fallouts.
  3. Don’t think from ‘getting through my task list”, think from what outcome am I out to produce here, what’s the intention of doing this, what are the results that I am out to achieve. The frame of mind (or context) that you are in while you work makes a bigger difference to your effectiveness than what you actually do. For example, I know if I am avoiding something, or don’t feel I have what I need to complete a task, I am going to work far less effectively and it is going to take longer than it could.
  4. Schedule time for planning what you are doing and how you are going to do it. The time spent planning will pay for itself many times over in the time you save and the quality of the work that you do.

And remember, if you are a manager and have staff reporting to you, then the way you work will be the way they work. They will mirror your strengths and your weaknesses compounding any behaviours that are less productive making it even more difficult to achieve the outcomes that you want.

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