One of the increasing trends I’ve noticed in both the workplace and educational environments is people struggling to keep pace with the demands of work and home life. It seems more than ever people are feeling stressed, frustrated and at a loss with how to cope. This anxiety isn’t helped with the holiday season and the additional pressures it brings. Mental health issues are an increasing worry, and more than ever people are feeling lost, hopeless and depressed.
As I write this blog I’m thinking about several things I need to complete by the end of the year. In addition to marking two sets of course assignments I have about 35 exams to grade starting December 12th, as well as coaching clients I must meet and various administrative tasks I need to finalize. All of this occurs at a time when my Christmas shopping still isn’t finished, a number of presents need to be wrapped, and I have five different Christmas functions to attend in a nine day period.
So, how do you cope? How do you balance the many competing demands from supervisors, spouses, children, friends, and family members while still retaining some semblance of balance in your life?
Here are some simple steps you could try that may help you re-gain control. This model is based on a set of weekly assignments, but it could be applied to a longer timeframe. Start by thinking of a “demand/supply” model.
The Demand Side
1. Commit it to paper. Write down or type absolutely everything you have to do, as well as when it needs to be completed. That which is seen gets done.
2. Prioritize. Using a grading system such as “A” being critical, “B” being secondary, and “C” being optional, prioritize every item on your list.
3. Re-sort the list. Now that you have each item graded, and a timeframe attached, re-sort the list first in order of priority, and then by when it is required. Be sure to note the different sub-tasks that are associated with completing each item on your list.
The Supply Side
4. Time availability. Now, determine how much time you have available each day of the week. Start by breaking each day into four hours chunks of time so that you have six four hour daily blocks, or forty-two blocks each week. Now, take out those blocks that are devoted to sleeping, personal needs, commuting, etc. Be realistic in your assessment.
5. Allocate. Take the items from your “A” list and allocate them into your calendar. Then, assuming you still have some available time, do the same with your “B” and “C” items. I’m not a big fan of multi-tasking, but if juggling multiple priorities concurrently is your style rather than allocating blocks of time for one work priority then go for it.
6. Call in reinforcements. Take the “A” level priorities, and ask yourself who, besides yourself, could be tasked to complete this. In the workplace perhaps it is a direct report, or maybe it is a co-worker with some work capacity. Do the same for the “B” and “C” items. If you can’t leverage additional resources within your organization (or family) ask yourself if there is someone you can hire to do the work.
7. Re-evaluate. If, after doing this, you still find there are certain priorities that can’t be completed, ask yourself if the timeframes for completion of any of your priorities can be extended.
8. Negotiate. If the answer to question #7 is “no”, and you are still left with incomplete work, then it’s time to recalibrate. In the case of priority items “C”, ask what could be the worst thing that could happen if these activities remained incomplete. In the case of priority items “A” and maybe “B” you may not have the luxury of being able to defer. In this case, your best option may be to contact your supervisor or the key stakeholder and try to negotiate an extension or additional support. When I was in corporate life, and even now as a professional coach and an academic, I try to be mindful and respectful of the needs of those on whom I am awaiting deliverables. So long as they can demonstrate they have taken reasonable measures to complete the work, and providing they don’t continually ask for delays or postponements, I try to oblige them wherever possible.
A Couple of Additional Pointers
When I started my coaching practice four years ago the biggest challenge I faced was that everything took twice as long to complete and cost three times as much. An overarching piece of advice I might offer would be to not leave things to the last minute, and wherever possible, to take the time to plan well in advance.
A second general suggestion would be to identify all those “time suckers” that nibble away at the minutes and hours in your week. One thing I’ve done to create more space in my schedule is to get off social media. Earlier this year I ditched both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Both provided marginal value to my business, and neither forum I particularly enjoyed. While I stay on top of my Linked In profile, realistically, it is now a minor part of my week’s activities. Sometimes, you have to be ruthless in order to manage your time effectively.
A Final Thought…
Finally, if after following all of this, you still find yourself lacking in time and increasingly frustrated then perhaps you need to seek professional help. There is no shame in reaching out for support, and all of us, from time to time, reach a roadblock in our lives where we need the guidance and counsel of others. Whether it is a professional coach, a psychologist, a counselor, or a medical clinician, ensure you get the assistance you need to move ahead.