Friday, January 11, 2008

Juggling Multiple Tasks, Bosses

It’s no secret that many of us are doing twice -- if not three or four times -- the amount of work we were doing a few years ago. Downsizings and layoffs and the reliance on teams have caused organizations to ask each individual to perform a multitude of tasks, many of them simultaneously.

And, of course, with all that works comes a lot of stress. Trying to find enough hours in the day to complete demanding projects while trying to please bosses and customers is a daunting task.

But many time management experts say there are ways we can do the work that needs to be done, while maintaining our sanity and pleasing the top brass.

The key, they say, is being able to negotiate and debate with others so that it is clear to everyone what the priorities must be and what you have going on. Also, it's critical that you become an entrepreneur -- that you “own” your job and determine what work yields the most value.

For example, you should should have a calendar or planner to list the top three tasks for a day with the highests risks and payoffs, weighed against your goals. These tasks should be scheduled during your best times of the day (some people just don’t do mornings well), or when you know you can get the privacy or the technical access you need.

Remember: Be diligent to make sure you don't schedule anything else until these top three priorities have been allotted time.

Then, try to leave the rest of your schedule loose enough to handle unexpected jobs or other tasks that need attention. Don't let any unimportant tasks come between you and the top three achievements.

Of course, if you work for more than one boss you may be forced to bump one of your top tasks, since each manager can have a passion for what he or she does, leading to your plate really being overloaded.

If that happens, then mark it down. Several bumpy weeks may convince you that your job has changed to the point that you may see you need help, or realize that it’s only a temporary crisis. And there’s always the chance you’ll discover things aren’t going to change -- and you may want to explore finding a new job.

One of the best suggestions I've heard for gaining control over multiple tasks and multiple bosses is posting a board that everyone can see -- either near your worksite or online -- that shows “requested” jobs on the left side of the board, and “committed” jobs on the right side. By keeping a clear picture, you can see what deadlines need to be negotiated, and what tasks need to be delegated.

With everyone able to see this list and what you have to do, your boss can see that he or she needs to be flexible. You can then clearly lay out what task is committed to be done, and how many hours it is going to take. A senior executive’s sole job is to direct people and make decisions. So by showing the board, you look at the list of projects and let them make the decisions about what task are your priority.

At the same time, other people can look at your workload and not even bother you if they see you don’t have any free time. (At the same time, the board gives you something to gaze at raptly as an angry or frustrated boss tries to figure out how to juggle the workload.)

Remember, your hesitancy to negotiate the work load is what enslaves you. When you present a clear picture of what you have going on, then you can receive some help from your boss. Once you give up the debate, then you've conceded defeat.


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