Project Management

9 Smart Strategies for Personal Workload Management

Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

9 Smart Strategies for Personal Workload Management

9 Smart Strategies for Personal Workload Management

It feels like someone is chasing you. Your workload is getting heavier and heavier. Expectations rise faster than performance. You run faster. You strive to earn more, to do more, and to be more. Surprisingly, only one thing remains unchanged: the number of hours you have in a day…

The comforting news is that you’re not alone. People increasingly feel the pressure of finishing too much work within too little time. In fact, millions of American workers quit their jobs in 2021. One of the top reasons? They want a better work-life balance.

Moreover, a recent paper by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) suggests that working long hours “is the single largest risk factor” for occupational disease. The Covid pandemic has taken the situation even further by bringing new forms of workplace fatigue and exhaustion.

Stress, burnout, loss of motivation… The ruining consequences of excessive workload are real. And people believe that to live in that reality they simply need to set up a calendar and put in a due date for each task. Not true. Workload management means a lot more. It’s a strategic approach to planning your capacity. It’s estimating, tracking, and auditing your resources and limitations – consistently and consciously.

Plan before you start

1. Plan before you start.

Every single task on your daily calendar should be linked to a specific goal. Following this tip will give you a sharp eye for detecting a task that doesn’t fit into the larger picture and should be cut down.

Resist the temptation to rush in and get started on the next project. You’ll be surprised how much time planning will save you later on.

Companies around the world provide an interesting hint. The 10th Global Project Management Survey indicates that the two primary causes of project failure are change in an organization’s priorities (39%) and change in project objectives (37%). Combined, that’s a whopping 76% of all reported cases!

Double and even triple workload is unavoidable when threats and opportunities are not considered carefully. If you don’t want to be thrown back to the starting line, setting clear goals and objectives should go first.

2. Prioritize to complete the right tasks.

Once you have your goals outlined and a plan to achieve them, you need to build a lighthouse – your guiding light in the stormy sea of everyday hustle and bustle.

That’s when you need to figure out what the difference is between urgent tasks and important tasks. Eisenhower Priority Matrix will help to classify your work and think critically about your priorities. Note that you should aim to work on the tasks from the “important but not urgent” category (marked in blue below).

Eisenhower Priority Matrix

Using this chart will reduce the unnecessary fuss and allow you to push secondary tasks for later.

By the way, here is when to-do lists come into play. They help to stay focused and boost your productivity if you learn how to master them. You simply need to make sure you don’t have multiple lists. Keep only one.

Your to-do list will not only keep you on track but will also serve as a sip of encouragement. When was the last time you ticked the box to mark a task completed? What a superb feeling, right?

Take on the hardest tasks first

3. Take on the hardest tasks first.

You may choose to complete easier tasks first to manage your workload better. Forget it. Professionals warn us that many people have tried it and failed. The reason? This improves your performance in the short term, but if you rely solely on this strategy it hurts performance in the long run. Maryam Kouchaki, one of the authors of this research, explains: “When we are overwhelmed and busy, we just go with easier tasks, and the difficult tasks tend to pile up.”

Not only your to-do list but also the entire project planning should follow this logic. The most pressing tasks are to be placed on top.

Wait. Are you afraid of tackling the hardest tasks first? Don’t panic. Create milestones! Think creatively about how you can break the project into easier chunks so that you enjoy that blessed sense of making progress.

4. Split it up and delegate.

Why spend so much effort on something that someone else can accomplish more successfully? Yes, you’re hard-working, committed and you want to deliver that project. And you can surely go ahead and take all of those responsibilities on yourself, but it’s a sure path to burnout or unnecessary stress.

Consider adding the question “Who can help to finish this task?” to your personal workload management techniques.

Administrative tasks (or anything that someone else can quickly learn and complete) should be considered to be delegated. Learn how to delegate administrative tasks and remember that according to a Gallup study, CEOs who master the art of delegating, generate 33% higher revenue.

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Whenever possible, get it off your desk.

One final note before we move on. When delegating tasks, do it fairly. People should understand that delegation doesn’t mean you don’t want to pull your weight. They should clearly see that you recognize their unique strengths of doing something more effectively than you could.

Block off time for emails and calls

5. Block off time for emails and calls.

Replying to that urgent message. Checking if there is anything important in the email you’ve just received. Answering that last phone call… Did you notice that you’re now switching tasks and multitasking?

Let’s face it. We’re hooked. Technology has us in its grip. We don’t even notice that emails and notifications force us to switch tasks causing brain downtime and loss of productivity.

Although juggling different projects has become something people brag they’re good at, research provides clear evidence for the negative impact of multitasking. It triggers stress, depression and increased levels of anxiety.

Allocate time to checking and replying to your emails and calls. Silence social media notifications. Keep in mind that personal workload management is a tough call. Remove the traffic jam in your head to be able to handle your workload effectively.

6. Learn to be imperfect.

If you’re a perfectionist, this point is not about putting blame on you. In fact, being a maximizer may help you persist when others get disappointed and give up. It helps you take your skills to the next level and eventually, stand out from the crowd. Keeping your standards high is important, but effective workload management strategies are all about thinking strategically about when you should tell yourself: it’s good enough!

Be careful. Don’t let your perfectionism kill your creative self. Author, professor, and podcast host Brené Brown points to interesting research showing that in perfectionist workplace cultures, people often report that there is no innovation or creativity.

Therefore, especially in times of heavy workloads, your motto should be “better done than perfect.”

7. Don’t be a pleaser.

If you’re someone who says yes too often, most probably you feel the pressure of not letting anyone down – be it a co-worker, a family member, or a client. But when you try to be all things to all people, you forget that your time is limited.

Try this. Don’t respond reactively; instead, take some time to think about the consequences of saying “Yes”. Practice saying: “I can do it, but which of my tasks can wait?”

Real progress is not about taking on more and more. It’s about having the courage to be honest with yourself and the people around you about what’s not working.

Set realistic expectations and plan for buffers

8. Set realistic expectations and plan for buffers.

When planning, you can use 100% of your working time and squeeze everything into your schedule. “Looks good,” you tell yourself.

But the cruel truth is – it’s not realistic to occupy your entire schedule (especially for an extended period of time). There should be time left for buffers. Build flexibility into your schedule and consider at least a buffer of 10%.

You can have everything set up and follow every single deadline. And then bang! Force majeure! Now you must rush to ad hoc meetings, make quick decisions, handle increased stress… You need time to adapt and keep on managing your personal workload effectively.

Last but not least, your workload is not only your load at work. There is more beyond the job – your family, your friends, your health, and time for yourself. Sorry for the reminder! But this takes us to our ninth tip.

Take care of yourself

9. Take care of yourself.

Do you forget to fuel your car before driving? Have you ever used your phone without charging it? Then how come you forget about ‘charging’ your body and your mind?

When Amanda Rose, a business consultant, was asked about the consequences of fatigue, she gave us a warning: “Burnout sucks the joy out of anything you do at work.” It drains your positive energy while you’re “trying to make it through the next hour.”

To save yourself from this, you need to exercise and get enough sleep. Luckily, no one needs a long lecture about why these two things are important.

However, if you don’t feel motivated enough to start, let’s ask Wendy Suzuki to help you. In her enlivening talk, she explains how physical activity can protect your brain by boosting your mood and memory.

What’s more, the right amount of sleep restores your ability to concentrate and be creative. “Our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep,” says neuroscientist Russell Foster. Simple as that. You only need a week of good night’s sleep to start witnessing a transformation.

Let’s wrap up!

Do you know the famous quote by Mark Twain? “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

You can have the best plan ever. You can even feel fully inspired. The biggest challenge, though, is to put that plan into action. If you do, the results will not keep you waiting long.

Next time you’re hit by a heavy workload, you’ll have a system in place to welcome it with a confident smile.

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