If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an ever-increasing workload, it may be time to regain your focus by clearing your backlog of tasks.
Many of the senior leaders I work with report feeling overwhelmed because they never seem to get through their workload. Over time, outstanding tasks start sapping their energy and attention; making it harder to focus on the important tasks of the day.
When a leader brings up this issue, we spend some time exploring what tasks they focus on, how they process tasks, when they process them and what happens between being assigned a task and when it actually gets done. A common practice among busy leaders is the habit of ‘parking’ tasks for later.
Each leader has his or her own way of managing this, ranging from numerous piles of papers around their desks, to one pile of tasks with each task in a different coloured folder. No matter what it looked like, the purpose of creating these piles was to get the information out of their head to create space for new assignments, and know everything was safe for when they eventually got round to completing the tasks.
One final stage to this ‘parking’ was, every so often, to look at the piles / folders, and re-stack them in order of priority. However, despite ‘parking’ the tasks, and re-prioritising them, the tasks remained stationary. It was rare to see a ‘parked’ task move from their desks.
As the waiting assignments accumulated, they would take up the leader’s time, energy and work space. As they spent time refreshing themselves on the tasks, then deliberating how important they were, they confirmed their feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated at underachieving. This all made it harder to focus their time and energy on the most important tasks.
As my clients gradually ‘parked’ more and more tasks, I imagined a long-stay car park, where none of the cars ever checked out! When one senior leader described this situation, I asked:
This sparked off a creative discussion about his cars, exploring how important they were to him / his team / his organisation, and what he was planning to do with his cars and when.
We immediately ruled out the constant moving of ‘cars’ from the 7th floor to the 6th floor in the way of re-prioritisation. Instead, we assessed the importance of each ‘car’, the desired outcome, key timescales, who was responsible for the ‘car’ and its associated tasks, and when the tasks were going to be completed.
This revealed which cars needed to be booked in for a MOT / service, which needed to be cleaned, which needed to be taken for a spin, which needed to be sold, and which needed to be taken to the scrap yard because they’d been left for so long they weren’t fit for purpose anymore!
The leader soon realised that if a task is important, it’s essential to do something with them before they ‘rust away’! Making actionable assessments helped him clear his desk, reducing wasted time and effort and increasing the amount of focus and energy he had available for incoming work.
If you have too many cars in your car park, shifting your focus from ‘parking’ to ‘doing’ will increase your control and coordination of priorities, which will restore your focus, energy and enthusiasm for your work.