8 Ideas to Help You Regain Control at Work

It’s great to be busy, but excessive busyness comes from a flawed approach to your situation.

Are you feeling over-tasked and maybe a bit or a lot overwhelmed at work? If so, you’re not alone. This feeling as if you are out of control is a perpetual state of existence for too many in the workplace. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s not sustainable, particularly if you are someone who takes pride in consistently doing great work. If you’re caught up in that swirling vortex of too much work chasing too much time, there are steps you can take to regain control.

1. Take Back Control of Your Calendar

I work with many clients to audit their calendars, and it’s not uncommon for us to reclaim 20% or more of that precious real-estate. From eliminating recurring status meetings to refining your operating meetings to be more efficient, there’s gold just waiting for you to mine on the calendar. I encourage you to minimize the power people have for scheduling you as well. And, as needed, block out “you time” to focus on your priorities.

2. It’s OK Not to Run Your One-on-Ones Weekly

Yes, I know it sounds like heresy to suggest reducing contact and coaching, but depending upon the individual, it might improve the quality of your one-on-ones. Your team members have different needs for connection and coaching, and not everyone needs to see you in this capacity every single week. Some individuals prefer added time between sessions to put the coaching ideas to work and engage in professional development work.Talk with them about their preferences and suggest a trial with an every-other-week approach for those looking for a bit more room to run.

Power Tip: Discuss the timing and frequency of one-on-ones with your boss and explore a schedule shift to every other week.

Warning: If your one-on-ones are no more than status updates, you’re misusing this precious contact time.

3. Fine Tune Priorities with Your Boss

Your priorities must be an extension of your boss’s priorities. Go out of your way to calibrate with your boss on her key goals, objectives, and initiatives, and work to align yours accordingly. Do this regularly, and use the process to gain support for culling non-priority activities from your list.

Power Tip: If you don’t have a communication protocol with your boss that offers time to compare notes on priorities, it’s incumbent upon you to use finesse and create this regular dialog. 

4. Filter Your Priorities Daily

The old school, A, B, C, priority system, is still my go-to approach. One or two top priorities (A’s) earn the lion’s share of my daily focus. I force-rank my B’s with one or two in the batter’s box ready to move up to A. I sometimes redo this two or three times a day, as I complete my top priorities. And for those initiatives that take longer, the challenge is to give them enough focus each day to ensure they are moving along.

Power Tip: Don’t look for volume here. It feels great to cross a bunch of items off the to-do list. However, if those are all C’s and easy to knock-out, all you’ve done is transact on the unimportant.

5. Don’t Compensate for a Broken System with More Effort

Dig into the root cause of your overload at work and strive to identify where the flow of tasks is coming from every day. In many situations, excessive work is a direct function of a poor management system. (Deming was right!) Instead of attempting to push the rocks up the hill every day, find a way to work with your boss and your colleagues to fix broken or cumbersome processes. To do this, you need to dig deep and find the root cause(s) of the problem. While the effort is momentarily additive to your workload, you and your colleagues will gain time and improve quality if you properly attack the root cause of the issue.

Power Tip: Don’t put band-aids on systemic issues. It’s easy to simply execute on the work created by a flawed process or management system, and it’s wrong. Draw upon your influence and communication skills and organize resources to improve the situation.

6. Learn to Say “No” with Empathy

Great people become go-to resources for others in an organization, and while it is gratifying to be asked to help, it can become a trap. For your organization, the things you decide not to do free up time, resources, and capital for the real priorities. You need to treat your workload with this same discipline and say no to those issues that don’t fit. Of course, consider offering alternative ideas. “No” is an important word that should be used with respect and empathy. Nonetheless, use it liberally!

7. Asking for Resources or Help is a Process

Every conversation in the workplace that’s not about sports or the weather is typically some form of negotiation. While it might be intimidating to ask for help or headcount, accept that it’s just a form of negotiation, and these things always happen in steps. Draw upon the persuasion cycle and tools of positive persuasion, and view the initial “no” or resistance as just the beginning of the process of getting to a negotiated “yes.”  Be flexible and creative in the process.

Power Tip: Recognize you are in your role to help your organization and team get better. Almost every improvement comes from individuals with the courage to say, “There must be a better way,” and then to act on it. Learn the tools of negotiation and persuasion and use them to create value!

8. Bookend Your Day with Success Thinking

One of my favorite approaches is to start the day reviewing my priorities and committing myself to succeed with each one. Then, I end the day and focus on what worked and what was achieved, not what I didn’t complete. Then, I get up and do it again, with a smile!

The bottom line for now: It’s great to be busy, but excessive busyness comes from a flawed approach to your situation. Assert control over your priorities and time, and quit letting the lower priority items rent space in your mind. You only succeed if you’re at your best on the issues and initiatives that count. Everything else is just friction.