You know the story because we’ve all been there. It’s Monday morning, your boss gives you a big project that’s due at the end of the week. Sure, it’s a challenge, but you’re up for it! This is why you took this job. Success on this project will earn you an enhanced reputation, management appreciation, maybe the opportunity for a raise or even a promotion! Failure means... well, you know you won’t let yourself fail.
But then Wednesday evening rolls around. So many people have been pulling you in so many directions that you’ve hardly had time to think about the big project. You worked through your lunch break and now here you are, still working even though everyone else went home long ago.
Thoughts run through your mind like “How can I make other staff members self-sufficient? How can I teach them what the words “later” and “I’m busy now” mean without looking like a jerk?” In other words, how can you create a game plan that lets you focus on special projects instead of running from cubicle to cubicle every day and feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing?
To help keep your focus and avoid those derailing interruptions, try these 7 strategies for offloading the tasks you can, prioritizing the tasks that remain, and focusing on the things that matter.
Every morning when you first get into the office, take 10 or 15 minutes to write down your schedule for the day. Block off chunks of time for working on routine daily tasks, focusing on special and important projects, and dedicating to assist other staff members with their ad hoc requests.
As you work through the day, try to stick to your schedule (unless true emergencies come up, of course). The more you work within a set schedule, the more you’ll be able to accurately forecast each day. Then, as interruptions do arise, you’ll be able to offload some tasks and prioritize and schedule others. I bet your day already looks more manageable!
If you haven’t already done so, set up a ticketing system for tracking and handling your incoming requests. Establish a process with your peers and staff for requesting your assistance through this system. Help desk software can be your single most important tool, and it’s now available for every budget and every size and type of company. Check out BMC’s Remedy and Remedyforce, RightNow from Oracle, or System Center from Microsoft. Zoho or Zendesk may be the answer if you’re looking for a less expensive solution.
But whatever software you choose for your ticketing system, try to avoid doing tasks that are requested outside of “the system.” It might feel alien at first, but don’t worry: this gets easier as your peers and staff get used to your new process and you begin to get into a groove yourself.
Post instructions for completing common tasks and other useful information, such as your schedule, on your company wiki if you have one. If your company doesn’t, consider assembling a resource library in a commonly accessible area, and tacking-up your schedule nearby.
Any article, tip, or tool that lets you say “Here’s how you do that” instead of “Let me do that for you” will be a valuable time-saver in your crusade against workday distractions.
As you implement your plan, don’t forget to share the changes you’re making with your peers and staff. Use any communication tools that are available to you (email, your company wiki or company blog, and so on). Letting others know about the problems you’re trying to solve and the systems you’re using to solve them will be key to your success.
If you think about it, you’ll likely find that many of your daily tasks are simple enough that most staff members can do them - maybe even without your help. Draft a list of potential do-it-yourself tasks and starting with tasks that don’t add extra work if done incorrectly.
When someone you trust to do a task seeks your help, try suggesting that they attempt it on their own and give them the tools to do it. Some staff members may even appreciate an opportunity to learn new job skills and to build their independence.
Put together simple how-to instructions for the do-it-yourself task list you created. You can even use information from an Experts Exchange question or article which helped you when you first tackled that task.
You can even ask your fellow staff members to write down the procedures they used when they successfully complete a do-it-yourself task. Maybe even consider offering rewards to show your appreciation for their help - something easy to get and inexpensive like donuts, company swag, or a candy bar.
In most companies, you have staff members on both sides of technically savvy spectrum - some who can build a network, database, or website in their sleep, and others who fall asleep just thinking about “all that stuff”. And then there are some do not have either the time or a willingness to take over your do-it-yourself tasks.
Get as much help as you can from those who are willing and capable to help. Make sure to give these valuable people the tools that they need (passwords, software, documentation, and so on). Enable them to help, to train others, or to document the processes they’ve followed. Don’t forget - Be sure they know how much you appreciate their help.
Of course, there will always be people who will need your assistance, even for simple tasks. Try to keep a good attitude with these folks, but whenever possible, encourage them to follow your system and respect your schedule - no matter how many chocolate chip cookies or caramel lattes they offer you!
Now that you have freed up much of your time by empowering and enabling your peers and staff to self-solve, you can focus on the tasks that no one but you can accomplish. To begin using your time more effectively, you will need to prioritize these tasks so that you’re focusing on what matters, and delivering results. If you haven’t worked with a priority matrix before, then try starting with Stephen Covey’s model below:
Sort your tasks into each of these 4 categories and then use the schedule you developed to address tasks during their scheduled time block. Again, it may feel awkward to wait to work on your most important and urgent tasks, but you’ll be more effective when you can fully focus on them during hours of peak productivity. Don’t forget to continually groom your toolkit and add your Not-Important/Not-Urgent tasks to your do-it-yourself list whenever applicable.
Effective time-management is an incredibly valuable skill which requires continuous development and self-discipline. Planning, delegating, and sticking to your schedule may feel strange when you start out (and you may even feel guilty for passing off responsibilities to others), but as you develop a routine and see the positive results, it will eventually become second nature. Now it’s time to get out there & start shipping!
I’d love to hear your feedback on my article, and any special techniques you’ve found to be more productive, help others in your workplace self-solve, or better manage your time. Feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading!