This article was inspired by a customer of mine who has had, by no fault of their own, a bad run that’s put an extreme amount of stress on the business, internal and external relationships and the momentum that we had built together in the past few months.
It is unfortunately a fact that if we don’t take control of our own habits, attitudes and processes we all can have them; bad days, or weeks, or even months, when it feels that no matter how hard we work, we just can’t break a negative cycle or get on top of the sheer amount of work we have. It is events such as this that coined quotes such as “expect the best, plan for the worst”.
Commit time to work breakdown
One of the most intimidating factors, when you have a pile of work, is looking at the sheer size of the work involved. It’s important to spend time, upfront, to break that work down to manageable pieces that can be delivered on a daily basis. Meaning you should not have tasks that are going to overlap days, each piece of work should be achievable in a reasonable period of time because the productivity impact of not achieving anything meaningful on a day is huge.
Breaking down work is a principle of project management (known as WBS or work breakdown) and can help you to not only better understand the time that a task will take, but also to better plan your future task commitments. Let us consider that you have been tasked with producing a brand, spanking new sales presentation. This is not going to be a simple, 1hr change, so we should break down the work into more manageable pieces and plan for them, as such;
- New Sales Presentation
- Define scope, stakeholders and expected outcomes
- Define presentation structure & sections
- Develop the presentation
- Section 1 (TBA)
- Section 2 (TBA)
- Section 3 (TBA)
- Thank you
Using each bullet point as a unique task you will be able to;
- Understand the total effort required to greater accuracy and as such not add additional pressure to other tasks and their timelines
- Plan pieces and successfully deliver work each day/work period
Research indicates that successfully completing work or tasks improves motivation and productivity, meaning you will get more work done and achieve better results overall.
Ensure you balance the types of tasks you are prioritising
Balancing the types of tasks you are prioritising is also another way to achieve better productivity and improve motivation. This involves ensuring that you are prioritising a balance of tasks that you enjoy or inspire you vs those tasks that you may not look forward to as much but still need to get done. The ratio of such balance needs to be reflective of organisational priorities of course but you should, at a minimum, allocate an hour a day to tasks that will make you feel good about what you’re doing. You will find that by taking this approach, the “others” won’t feel like such a burden or point of frustration.
Reflect, learn and move on
Take time, as you progress through your balanced, manageable tasks to reflect on each item as you progress towards relieving the business pressures you’re facing to ensure that you are doing everything you can to avoid such a situation again. What could you have done differently to avoid this pressure? Did you fail to plan effectively? Did you fail to identify, mitigate and avoid a risk?
I always say to those people I’m working with, “I have no issue with anybody making a mistake, I have a huge problem if they make the same mistake multiple times” and you should take the same attitude.
Another consideration is that you should try not to dwell on events that you can no longer control.
Reflect, absolutely, dwell and revisit the frustrations, what is the point?
Consider external assistance – even if it is short-term
If it really feels that you are lacking support, consider reaching out to an external resource for assistance. Somebody to help put things into perspective, potentially help you break down your work, plan and execute it effectively. An external resource, such as myself, can also help you to develop more effective processes for planning and risk management to help your entire organisation in the future.
I also offer educational sessions that expand on some of the above approaches to implement productivity hacks and effective strategic planning and execution processes for your organisation.