How to Manage a Demanding Workload
By Susanne Madsen
As a project management coach and facilitator I often come across project managers who find their workload overwhelming. They want to do a good job and don’t want to appear “weak” by saying no to more work. But in spite of working long hours, there is so much on their plate that only the most urgent requests get their attention. At the bottom of the pile are the more proactive and strategic activities that they never get around to. In the long run, it’s dissatisfying and overwhelming and can cause their projects to fail! If you recognize yourself in the above description, here are some tips:
Asking for help is OK
Fortunately there are several things you can do to improve the situation, but to reap the benefits you must be prepared to review your working patterns and even some of your beliefs. One of the beliefs that may be contributing to your overwhelm, is that ‘we are weak if we ask for help’. You may feel that it reflects badly on you if you are to push back or say no to an additional project. But by taking on more than you can cope with, you are not only letting yourself down but also your clients, as you are not able to fully focus on your existing projects. Great project managers get results by giving their project the focus it needs. So instead of seeing it as a weakness, asking for help is really a strength because you are standing up for yourself and your project.
Begin to delegate
A great way to ease your workload is to get a project administrator on board or to delegate to existing team members. This will almost immediately free you up to focus on the most important aspects of your project. The administrator could help with low-level tasks such as time sheet approval, financial tracking, weekly reporting, and even manage a work stream. It is essential work, but it isn’t essential that you do it. If you need to justify the extra person, explain to your managers that it will allow you to add greater value and ensure that your big project is delivered successfully. The only way to expand and grow is to delegate, and the beauty is that if done correctly it will develop your team members in the process.
Many of us don’t delegate either because we feel we have no one to delegate to, or because we deep down believe that we have to know it all and do it all by ourselves. We have for instance been taught that it’s the project manager’s responsibility to plan and track the project. But collaborative planning is a great way to engage the team and promote a shared sense of responsibility. Doing it all on your own is exhausting and inefficient and it disengages the team. So look at how you are using the team. Are you planning the work collaboratively, are you making joint decisions and is the responsibility for the project shared between all members?
As you begin to share the workload, use the 80/20 rule to become aware of what your highest value tasks are; i.e. what are the 20% of your activities that add to 80% of your project’s results. These high-value activities are where your focus should be.
Share your concerns
But most importantly you have to find someone to talk this through with so that the situation doesn’t cause you to burn out or ends up leading to project failure. If you aren’t comfortable approaching your manager, speak to a trusted colleague or mentor. If you would like to work it through in more depth, you can also find an independent coach to support you. No matter what you do, don’t ignore the situation.
Susanne Madsen is a project & program manager, mentor & coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs. You can read more from Susanne on her blog.