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TEAM BUILDING

What to Do When You're Overloaded: 7 Tips

Too much on your plate again? Sometimes it's unavoidable. Here are some quick tips to help free you from the workload.
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Trying to grow companies is hard work. Rarely are there enough resources and no matter how late or hard you work there is always more to be done. Big projects can often mask the load because they draw focus. But when you get over the hump on a major initiative you can find yourself with an overwhelming amount of work that got pushed aside. That's when the workload can just feel debilitating.

No need to panic. You can dig yourself out of almost any hole if you keep your wits about you. If you clear away mounds of work in a short time, you'll feel re-energized and ready to create new opportunities. You can systematically reduce your workload with a little thought and organization. Start with a positive attitude and make a list of everything on your plate. Then take a deep breath and use these tips to attack the mountain of work ahead.

1.  Eliminate unimportant projects. Does everything on the list really need to be done? Often we have tasks on our list that are only nice to have, or perhaps are legacy tasks that are no longer important or applicable to our success path. Go through the list and rank items of critical importance from 1 to 5. Take all of the 5s off your list and focus on the 1s and 2s. You can always move an item back on the list when it becomes useful or crucial.

2. Minimize steps. Often people make tasks more complicated then they need to be.  Most of the time this happens either because the task hasn't been carefully planned or because the way it's been done in the past hasn't been reassessed and updated. Examine each task on the list as if it were brand new and write out a simple 5-step completion process for each one. Most likely you'll simplify the process on several tasks and free up some of your time.

3. Move out deadlines. It may seem like everything needs to be done right now, and it probably does. But in truth, everything can't happen simultaneously. Set your list on a timeline identifying requirements to get started, so you can see which tasks are inter-dependent and then determine how long they will actually take. Now you can prioritize and calendar each item. This process will help set priorities and eliminate inefficiencies and wait times.

4. Outsource some tasks. Part of what builds your overload is keeping everything on your plate when someone else could do much of it more effectively. Go through your list and mark the items that could actually be done in whole or in part by someone other than you. Whether you delegate to an employee, farm out to a firm, or bring in an independent expert, you are bound to free up time and mental space by being the supervisor rather than the doer. There may be some learning curve to get outsourcers up to speed, but once someone learns to handle the task, it should stay off your desk for good.

5. Involve the team. You don't have to do everything alone. You hired employees and took on partners so your company could become more than the sum of the parts.  Use the brains and hands of those around you to support the effort efficiently. Set up an efficacy meeting. Have people on the team use this article to get their own list trimmed and prioritized. Then you all can share your lists and spend a little time on how to get all the tasks done as a group. You'll be able to reposition tasks to the most appropriate people, establish accountability and eliminate redundancy. The added emotional support from the team will make completing the tasks more fun as well.

6. Run a marathon. Going back and forth from task to task can make completion take twice as much time. The best and most efficient work happens with focused attention. Clear your desks for 48 hours. Move your meetings, and reduce your communication as if you were going on vacation.  Now schedule as much of your list as possible for that 48-hour marathon. Put yourself in a comfortable work environment and attack all the tasks that require serious brainwork, writing, number-crunching, strategy or whatever demands deep thought.

7. Take a breather. Each of these tips should help lighten the load, but when all is said and done your list will still probably big and possibly insurmountable. Such is the reality of fast growth companies. There is always a new product to launch, a competitor to crush, and an investor to please. But you as a leader must be in control if you are going to succeed. So make sure that no matter how big and pressing your workload, you take the time to rest your body and your brain. That way you'll be in your most productive and efficient mode so you can perform at your best. Most importantly you'll eliminate careless mistakes that add more tasks to your already heavy workload.


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Last updated: May 30, 2014

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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