Managing your Workload Throughout a Project
The workload that one acquires during a project’s lifecycle can vary from a few phone calls to make one day, to multiple reports and presentations to prepare the next. The exciting, yet anxiety provoking, thing about working on major projects is that you can never really predict what each day will bring. For most this is what they like about the project environment, but that’s not to say that this dynamism can’t become overwhelming and stressful at times. But while there will be times when it all feels too much, with the right strategies and plans in place, the frequency of this can be drastically reduced. But with such a diverse workload to manage, what are the best strategies to help combat feelings of overwhelm?
- Plan, plan, plan
It’s the most important of all the strategies and theoretically should be relatively easy to implement as planning is the cornerstone of a project manager or planner’s role. However many individuals in project teams find it much easier to plan the direction and strategy of the project they are overseeing than their personal workload. But they do have the inherent skills required to actively plan their workload, so with the right approach this can be easily managed. There will inevitably be some things that can’t be planned for, but these are much easier to manage if the other things have been organised beforehand.
While some individuals prefer to hold responsibility for as much as possible to ensure consistency, the reality is that no one person can do everything, so one of the key things to help manage workload during a project is to delegate where possible. If you work as part of a large project team there will be individuals responsible for certain aspects that may be better placed to handle certain kinds of tasks; if you have a dedicated scheduler in post then delegating scheduling issues to them is a reasonable request. However if you work in a smaller team this may be harder to accomplish as everyone will likely be working at a high capacity already, but that isn’t to say there is nothing that can be done. Within a smaller team it is likely that a greater degree of the workload will be shared amongst different individuals, so make the most of this and discuss whether there are ways in which work can be distributed if you, or someone else, have a particularly high workload.
- Share concerns
Where it is not possible to delegate work directly and you are experiencing overburden of workload then it is important to raise concerns as soon as possible rather than wait until it becomes too much to handle. Speak to your line manager and colleagues where appropriate and discuss if anything can be done to help distribute the workload differently. If that isn’t an option then it may be that the project team needs to be expanded to accommodate all of the work, and this can only happen if these concerns are raised and senior leaders are made aware of the issue. There are always things that can be done to help reduce the impact of a high workload, but only if people are made aware of the problem. In most cases it is because individuals do not raise these concerns that they then have to struggle to cope, when in fact it is much more beneficial to all parties if you are able to complete your work to a high standard without feeling under pressure to do everything yourself.
A classic tip which far too few people use; the art of prioritisation is actually incredibly important. When things start building up it can become extremely hard to decipher what’s important and not, and if things are being handed to you from all sides it may feel like everything is essential. But this is unlikely to be true; in any mix of tasks there will be a range of important, urgent and non-important/urgent tasks. Before becoming embroiled in trying to get everything done, first decide where each task lies; the top priority tasks should be the ones that are important (need to be done to ensure project success) and urgent (short timeframe to do it). If a task isn’t urgent or important it is probably unnecessary so don’t waste time doing it. The difficult part in prioritising is assessing whether tasks delegated from elsewhere are urgent or not, and the only way to understand this is to ask. Don’t assume that every task handed over to you is important or urgent, even if the individual handing it is a senior leader; use your judgement to ensure the tasks you take on aren’t wasting your valuable time.
- Find ways to avoid procrastination
When you are facing a number of daunting tasks, the temptation to procrastinate can be overwhelming; and as a result rather than simply getting it done and moving on to the net thing, you find your energy being drained by constantly trying to avoid the one thing you need to do. Having an arsenal of procrastination beating tools is therefore vital to manage workload during a project and there is a wealth of them out there. Many experts in the field recommend the ‘eat the frog’ technique where you do the ‘worst’ task first to just get it out of the way, other tips include setting yourself brief 25 minute sessions to dedicate to a task and taking a break when the time is up. There are lots of strategies available so choose the one that works for you.
- Be proactive with your free time
Should you find yourself in the (rare) situation where you are on top of everything and have relatively little to do, then use this time proactively and find ways you can prepare for the next onslaught of work. It may be planning for the next stage of the project, preparing the outline of a report, or catching up with the team to see if there’s anything you can help them with. Whatever you choose to do, making the most of free time when it happens is paramount to ensure a project workload can be managed well, and hopefully stress can be avoided.
Managing your workload throughout a project can feel like a mini [project in itself, but by using the strategies above and the organisational and time management skills that have been honed while working on projects, it can be achieved, and it’s an important goal to work towards. Feeling in control and on top of your workload will ensure less stress for you and your team, and ultimately better outcomes for the project and your customers, so finding ways to better manage your time is well worth the effort.