There comes a time in every person’s life where you suddenly need to juggle a lot more work without a lot more time. Maybe you got a promotion, and you have increased responsibilities. Or perhaps your department has shrunk, and you have less people tasked with doing as much or more work than before.
How do you keep on top of your work without your schedule getting entirely out of control?
As a time management coach, I’ve worked with many people in this exact situation. What I’ve found is that in these situations, you need sharper focus and stronger filters. These five strategies can help you with both.
Define your goals
As soon as possible, sit down with your manager and renegotiate your annual goals. That means evaluating your current goals and determining whether or not they should stay on your list. For example, it may make sense to delay or delegate a special project to someone else. It also means agreeing on the definition of success for your new responsibilities. How will you be evaluated at the end of the year on your performance in the new areas?
Then once you have clarified these goals, allow them to shape the focus of your time. Make meetings and activities aligned with the goals the priority, and minimize involvement in tasks and projects unrelated to these goals.
Identify key risks
Next, turn your attention toward key risks, i.e., where are the possibilities for bad things happening, and how can we avoid them? This could include everything from making sure client emails are answered in a timely manner, to ensuring certain reports are filed on time.
For the key risks, you will need to set up no-brainer systems to remind you to either do the work or check on others doing the work. Because you have increased responsibility now, you can’t rely on your memory. Set up recurring reminders in your calendar for certain key activities or make check-ins on key risks a standard part of your one-on-one meetings with direct reports. When work is crazy busy, investing in the key priorities and monitoring key risks is paramount.
Once you’ve gotten clear on what to do with your time, you need to intentionally decide what not to do. It’s generally a good life choice to do this before you’re sitting in the office at 10 p.m. crying as a result of feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed because you’re missing meetings and dropping balls.
Step away from as many “nice but not necessary” meetings as possible. This could include committee meetings, meetings where the information is interesting but not directly connected to your key goals, or meetings where you could get the information in a faster format, such as by looking at the meeting notes or getting an update from another staff member.
Also, you must delegate more to others. It’s best to completely give away projects. But if that’s not possible, see if you can delegate even part of an assignment to someone else. This can save you time and give projects momentum. If there’s no one internally to delegate work to, see if hiring contract help is a possibility.
Make a punch list
When there’s more to get done, you need to use your time more effectively. With that in mind, I highly recommend never going into a day without a punch list of the most important activities that you want to achieve. At the very least, define your three most important items for the day and make every effort to accomplish them.
Also if you struggle to find time for your punch list items, consider blocking out to-do or project blocks in your schedule or keeping the first hour or two of your day sacred to get work done.
Mind your own business
In the past, you may have engaged in certain projects or helped with resolving particular issues that are no longer part of your key priorities or risks. In your new situation, you really need to learn to mind your own business. That means not getting involved in e-mail trains that others are handling just fine. Not stepping up to volunteer for something extra. And if at all possible, not going back to work that is no longer critical in your current role.
It will feel really hard to keep out of this old business because you want to feel smart and helpful. But to get your most important work done and leave the office on time, you must focus on what matters most now.
Having extra work added to your plate does create challenges but doesn’t have to wreck your schedule. By keeping these five strategies in mind, you can handle more work without more hours.