Prioritising Workloads

One of the quotes from a client that stood out for us last week was this one,

‘I’m not counting January and February as 2021 – they were really just an extension of 2020. But I can safely say 2021 has now started and it’s started at 100 mph.’

Sound familiar? We can’t think of a single coaching call or team event recently that hasn’t touched on workloads.

It’s not like we haven’t managed heavy workloads before – but there’s something about the density of it all as we continue to operate remotely while planning ahead, considering how to take businesses forward in what remain fairly murky waters.

Plenty of challenges to face but so many opportunities too and this is where the leaders we’re working with are focusing their efforts; how to make sure ‘urgent challenges’ don’t overwhelm ‘important opportunities’?

The ‘urgent/important’ dichotomy – originated by Eisenhower (see image), made popular by Stephen Covey is without doubt a well-founded way to help prioritise seemingly endless to-do lists.

But what we haven’t had to take into account before is the sheer volume of requests and actions flooding into our inboxes on a daily  – frequently hourly – basis. Email, Teams, Zoom, Slack, it can easily begin to feel relentless. So, what else can we do to sift through and sort without getting burnt-out by it all?

Prioritising time

In prioritising workloads what we’re actually doing is prioritising our time. We can’t do it all and no amount of early starts or late finishes are going to solve that conundrum – all it does is run down the battery – making it even less likely that we’re able to operate at our best when it’s needed. As we explored in an earlier blog, Choose your burners wisely to avoid ‘burnout’.

But, what we can do is take some positive steps to ensure we’re managing our time in line with what’s both urgent and important.

  1. Stones and sand; back to Stephen Covey here and his theory of blocking out time for the important stuff first before filling the gaps with other less demanding activities. If you fill your jar with sand and gravel first (the smaller often ‘urgent’ tasks) there’s no way you’ll fit in the rocks that really matter (the bigger, more ‘important’ tasks).
  1. Only you; in taking on the responsibility of leading and directing our people and organisations through the pandemic it’s not hard to see why we might have forgotten the art of delegation. The question of ‘what is it only you can do?’ is probably even more relevant now and in reminding ourselves of where our highest contribution sits we can use this to help us prioritise how we can spend our time most effectively.
  1. Say no; just because someone asks us for something doesn’t mean we have to drop everything and respond immediately (even if they happen to be higher up the food chain than you). As you know at Maier we’re all for collaboration – we go on about it all the time, but what we talk about is purposeful, intentional collaboration – the sort that takes everyone a step or two further forward. And if you’re not ready to say ‘no’ outright – perhaps at least stop for a moment to think about what saying ‘yes’ means in relation to everything else you’re juggling.

Prioritising purpose

At the end of 2020 we worked in a pretty intense and dynamic way with a not for profit client across all of their critical functions to define their respective purposes and how they contributed to the overall objectives and ambitions of the business. This had been prompted in part by a sense of many teams – all WFH – feeling increasingly dislocated from the main cut and thrust of what their organisation was all about.

Their connection to the customer, each other, colleagues in other departments coupled with their desire to remain accountable and authentic – it was all beginning to feel a bit too abstract at times. The true purpose of why you come into work every day and make a difference (so much harder when WFH) needed recalibrating.

There were some real ‘light-bulb’ moments when it came to articulating how, as teams and departments, they now intended to operate differently with their PURPOSE front of mind and absolutely owned and understood. It reignited a sense of togetherness and clarity in such challenging times.

In those moments when actions stack up and everything looks and feels like a priority they’re now able to use their purpose to filter and triage the list accordingly. And more importantly as leaders they’re able to help their teams do the same meaning decisions aren’t held up or bottlenecked.

Prioritising deliberating thinking

In asking a coachee recently how they were managing current workloads, their response was, ‘I’m just keeping my head down and pushing on.’ Commendable as this is in terms of dedication and commitment the next part of the session was all about the three S’s; sustainability, strategy and self-care. How long do you think you can do this for? What’s your end goal in all of this – where is it going? And, how are you taking enough care of you to ensure you’re able to support others?

Last week the BBC reported on the latest figures from Asos.  A 24% increase in turnover, an additional 1.5 million new customers in the last six months and profit running at over three times what it was the previous year.

They chose to describe Asos as ‘one of the businesses that had benefited from lockdown’ but it’s important to caveat that. The results they’ve achieved aren’t down to ‘luck’ but instead the outcome of some pretty swift and intentional thinking and decision making.

Workloads were just as demanding for Asos as they were for everyone else but Nick Beighton and his team recognised the need to ‘step out and step up’ if they were to ensure continued success and growth. Who else was thinking on that scale at the start of this?

It’s hard to take a step back when everything is screaming for your time and attention, but the space to reflect and think through alternative options while not losing sight of the purpose is key.

But it’s not something you have to do alone – pick up with a coach, reach out to a mentor, call on a peer – what we can’t see is often so obvious to others.