I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. 

Or rather, I have quoted him before, and I will quote him again. Patrick Lencioni, author of 5 Dysfunctions of a team, says “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”

It’s one of those quotes that has stuck with me for years. Talk about stating the obvious, but sometimes we are so overloaded and oversubscribed the obvious is buried in a bulging inbox and a to-do list longer than your arm.  

If you have returned from the so-called ‘big pause’ of the pandemic only to find that the treadmill you left has been notched up a pace and put on the incline setting, then read on. 

“I am back to back with meetings” used to be the complaint I heard the most among clients, and now it’s shifted to “the workload is relentless”. Bouncing from one unproductive meeting to another is still a favourite pastime. But clients feel inadequate and overwhelmed because they feel like they have lost touch with some of the fundamentals of planning and prioritising.

If you feel like you are drowning in demands, working hours are steadily creeping up and are deflated with the prospect of never catching up; it might be worth getting back to basics. Here is your 5 step plan for a calmer and more considered way of working. 

1.    Create space

Slowing down to speed up feels counterintuitive to many of us. I have battled with it myself, and I understand that this is not the silver bullet you hoped for. My coach explained that this is not about doing or being less. It is about being more by resourcing yourself. Slow down, take a breath and create the space within you. Finding a practice that helps you find that space within will help you be more present with what you are dealing with here and now. 

2.    Clarity on priorities. 

Now that you are more present, you can think better and see the priorities. Too often, we are running on autopilot and, without awareness, are working on things from a place of habit versus conscious intention. I work by the rule of 3 and get my clients to identify their top 3 priorities and keep them somewhere they can see them. Decisions about what you do next, whether you should accept that meeting should be driven by your priorities. Something as simple as writing them on post-it notes and sticking it on your laptop can serve as a quick nudge.

3.    Eisenhower. 

The old ones are the best. Despite having clear priorities there will come a point when in order to reset you will need to transition.  Because you can’t just drop everything that doesn’t sit with your newly identified priorities. 

Grab another post-it note pad and a brain dump of everything on your plate. Create a matrix like the one here and plot the tasks.

Writing everything down can be cathartic in itself, but once you start to sort and filter, the fog begins to lift a bit further.

4.    Delegate well. 

There is a clear distinction between delegating and dumping. Taking the time to do this well is underrated. Choose the person who has the appropriate level of competence and autonomy and plays to people’s strengths. Then, clearly articulate the desired outcome and allow clear lines of communication. Good delegation is a transfer of tasks. Dumping, is handing it over never to be seen again. Good delegation requires you to be patient and give feedback so that they can grow and evolve, and you can feel confident to delegate more. 

5. Time blocking. 

“Most office workers never get an hour to themselves without being interrupted. The average CEO of a Fortune 500 company, for example, gets just twenty-eight uninterrupted minutes a day.” Stolen Focus, Johann Hari. Now that you have delegated, you need to be productive with what you have left. Time blocking is a simple but game-changing approach for many of my clients and will help you reclaim your focus and productivity. Quite simply group tasks and allocate time to do them. You are setting aside chunks of time for critical work; you also allow space to catch up on emails and other admin.

These are just some practical things that you can do today to ease the pressure on the flow of work coming your way. There are, of course, many more factors such as mindset and relationship management that will help you take back control and reclaim your brilliance. If you need any support with this, please drop a line hello@jocowlin.com

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