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How to Triumph In Prioritizing a Heavy Workload
This happens to every one of us – the moment when you are stuck with too many tasks, making it difficult to set their priority. The extreme workload daunts many of us. In fact, there comes a point where our brain stops sorting things out, and we end up doing nothing at all. So how do you triumph in prioritizing a heavy workload? In this blog, we will try to look into all the methods that you can apply to organize yourself.
One thing that you should be clear on is that all projects need to have clear priorities set from the start. This is even more important if the project is large and complex. Failing to prioritize your project properly will result in things getting messy at your workplace and many tasks can be stalled because of this. However, you will also need to understand that it is usual to see the project priorities change, so it comes down to staying updated on the deliverables and the importance and/or urgency each of them has. Being organized will help you complete things on time and guarantee your project’s success.
Project managers these days face a challenge of being able to prioritize work on a daily basis. Having the best project management tools does not guarantee a solution to this problem, as it will still mean that you are the one entering all the information on all the different projects. It is important to have the right project insight to help you make your decisions. Let us look at the 10 steps that I feel can help you prioritize projects properly:
- Keep a List of All Your Tasks. As weird as it may sound, most of us never truly keep an exhaustive list of all the tasks. Get back to the basics and gather a collection of all the projects and all the tasks that are required on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Do not worry about the order at this stage.
- Identify the Important vs. Urgent Tasks. There are important tasks and then there are tasks that can mean the entire project or even your job (ok maybe not your job!). You will have to separate the important tasks from the ones that need immediate attention. An easy way to make this differentiation is to look for work that, if not done by the completion of business day or in the next few hours, will have critical negative consequences like missing the release deadline or missing the committed customer deadline. These are your “urgent” tasks. Often we get confused between the two, making it look as if we have a dozen urgent tasks while in reality there are just a couple. Take a look at my post on LinkedIn –Here’s How To Add Great Value – which discusses the conflict between urgent and important. I also found this article on Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle by MindTools to be great in understanding this topic.
- Assess Each Task’s Value. After identifying the urgent tasks, look at the important tasks and assess the ones that carry the highest value to your organization. If possible, try to set an SOP for all tasks so that you know the priority of each task before they even start. These SOPs can be something like focusing on customer A before any other or focus on customer work before internal work. Answering all queries before sending out the weekly customer care report, etc. You can also assess a project or a task’s importance by looking at the number of people or departments that are getting affected by it. As a rule, the more people affected by a task, the higher the stakes and the more importance it holds.
- Be Realistic with your deadlines. Being overoptimistic can come back to bite you very hard. Set estimated time that each task will take but do not commit yourself to timelines that you feel are a bit of a stretch. Be honest with your capacity and the potential of your team so that you do not feel overwhelmed by the workload. You will have to allocate time for any unforeseeable interruptions. This can include sick staff, bad weather, or customer requests on short notice.
- Let The Estimated Effort Decide The Order. Sometimes, the priority of two or more tasks seem to be the same. In this case, try to order them by the estimated effort they will take. Prioritize the one that takes the most effort over the one that takes lesser effort. Likewise, prioritize the one that takes lesser effort over the one that takes the least effort. While it is a good idea to start with lengthier work first, you might be one of those people who simply cannot concentrate on the big tasks unless you complete the smaller ones – so this also depends on you.
- Have A Structured Approach. One of the worst things that you can do while managing a heavy workload is you picking up one task, doing it a little bit and then dropping it to do something else. You will need to have serious dedication to your tasks and deal with them one at a time, finishing them before moving to the next. We all have a habit of trying to multitasking and feel the need of doing this when faced with too many things with tight deadlines. This will also allow you to have a clear focus when you move to the next task.
- Be vary of your inbox dictating your workload. Getting over 50 mails per day means you are getting 50 interruptions daily. As highlighted in this article by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales (ICAEW), Checking your mails too often or stopping to do the regular tasks that someone has emailed you will only make matters worse. Therefore, you should try to switch off instant alerts and allocate a specific time to check your inbox.
- Have Flexibility and Adaptability. It is important to be prepared for uncertainty and changes. So be prepared for your work priorities to change without any warnings. All that you need to do is be committed to the completion of your tasks, stay closely informed by your customer and your teams. The best preparation to tackle such uncertainties is to know the real situation and hand, which will allow you to shift your priorities, as and when needed.
- Understand Your Limitations. Despite all your good intentions, at some stage you might have to realize that you simply cannot get to everything on yourself all on your own. It might help to just focus on the priority tasks, the urgent and important work and leave the rest for someone else to do or for a later stage. Get in touch with your line manager if you think you cannot even complete the urgent tasks and they might be able to find a solution or delegate someone to help you.
- Have a regular review of your workload. There might be some serious hidden issues in the performance of your projects. If there is a task that always ends up finding itself at the bottom of the pile? It might be that you are deliberately avoiding it as you are not comfortable with that work or lack the confidence to deliver it. Instead of keeping silent over this, it is a good idea to talk to your boss and see if anyone else can do it. Reviewing your workload will also highlight if there is some external factor or another team member responsible for you having to deal with the pressure.
Every workplace has its nuances. So how to apply the above? What is important is that you understand the needs and motivations of your customers, your team’s potential and the temperament of your boss. Ultimately, managing heavy workload can come down to how well you can manage people. Having a strong relationship with your customer can actually help you buy more time. Completing urgent tasks in time does not give you the liberty mess the quality of the task. If you ask me, your timelines for each task need to consider how long it will take you to deliver a task with best quality. Completing an urgent task without care is as bad as sending nothing at all. In fact, it can be much more damaging as not will it annoy your customer even more, it will also mean that you are back to level zero and have to do the entire effort from scratch with probably no time at hand. If you are a new project manager, I am sure you will like these 25 tips for project management success.
These were my two cents on how you can perform an effective heavy workload management. Do you have your own way of tackling such situations? Share it with all the readers in the comments section. Do not forget to mention your industry and your designation – it will help us understand if there are variations in industries and job titles. I also encourage you to check out our other similar blogs on Project Management like Aim Before You Shoot: Goal-Setting Strategies to Ensure a Project’s Success and Secrets to Successful Project Management – focus on the important things you can control.