creating sustainable results in growth and performance
Once begun, work
follows the path of least resistance.
Most of us manage
our daily workload through triage:
We avoid or
postpone all but the most pressing decisions and tasks.
And when everybody
is in triage mode, the path of least resistance is to just keep things moving,
passing work on to others as quickly as possible, even if that work comes up
short in focus or importance. Because the biggest wall of resistance comes from
stopping the flow and telling our bosses what they want us to do isn't focused,
important, or valid.
The SO What?
It's a lot easier than you think
to reduce the flow of work from your boss.
The secret is to
avoid any conversations that sound like you want to reduce the flow of work from
his plate onto yours, and instead just clarify the immediate next steps.
Clarification is your secret partnering tool - while your boss is clarifying
next steps, he'll actually get more focused. Really!
means saying “I can’t do everything.”
Constantly find the
vital few and focus on those. The key to success is knowing what NOT to do. The
steps on this page have been specifically designed to stop you from shooting
yourself in the foot!
If you work with a
manager who continually passes on too much, don't question your workload, or
push for anything greater than short-term prioritization! If you do, your
manager is likely to think that you're pushing work back onto his or her plate!
Then, everything that happens next - the negotiations, the kicking and
screaming, all the business rationale, everything - has absolutely nothing to do
with your goals or your workload. Instead, what's buzzing through your manager's
head is "I thought I got this off my plate and onto yours! Are you asking me to
revisit decisions that I've already made? I don't have time for that!"
It's his workload
he's worried about, not yours! Once begun, work follows the path of least
resistance - your boss doesn't want anything pushed back on his plate. He wants
you to just keep things moving.
Your problem is
that a manager who fails to prioritize and focus your workload is abdicating a
responsibility s/he has to you. Still, partnering with your manager will reduce
your workload. Complaining will not.
One of the primary
drivers in day-to-day activities is to keep things moving forward. Most of us
avoid anything that smacks of moving backwards like stopping to reflect on, and
question, any work that has already been set in motion.
That doesn't make
any of us bad people. Or bad managers or bad teammates. Just crazed and
How not to shoot
yourself in the foot
Unless you are
willing to go toe-to-toe with your manager, forcing him to think about his own
workload avoid conversations that ask your manager to uncheck his handoff to
you. You don't want to appear to be pushing anything back onto his plate. The
four steps in this chapter will help you avoid this. (Note: In some "empowered"
cultures, you may be able to push back on your manager. If you're among the
lucky few - great! Do so. But it's an extremely rare manager who is willing to
have his decisions questioned, especially if it means pushing work back onto his
Accept the fact
that too much work is probably going to keep coming at you. But because your
manager hasn't had the time to think through your entire workload, that leaves a
window of opportunity to jump in
1. Before you
talk with your boss about managing your workload: Do your homework
Know exactly which
work is extraneous, how many goals are too many, and where you think your
efforts need to be focused.
Some guidelines for
doing your homework, and figuring out what's extraneous and what's important:
Nobody can focus on more than three to
five goals at a time
Of the umpteen goals your
manager just announced, which three do you believe will add the most value to
the company, your customers, your team, and you?
If your boss just won’t prioritize your
work, acknowledge (without any disparaging comments) that all the targets are
important. But say that youjust can’t do them all right now and that your poor
execution will put him/her at risk. Ask if others can take on some of the
Go away and look into what it would take
to do the remaining targets. Arrange another meeting (informal is best, don’t
ask for an appointment) and begin by telling him/her that most of the list is a
lot harder than you (both) might have realized. Walk him/her through a few
examples. Again ask who else it can be assigned to. Keep forcing him/her to
choose: “which one of these do you think is more important? Which one of these…?
One by one, cross things off. You may
find however, that even after that meeting your boss is still expecting all the
targets to be met, even those taken off the list. You may have to have a third
meeting in which you are relentless. Get it down to the vital five and
thereafter only discuss those with boss, peers, subordinates, etc.
All work requires tools, support,
training, and resources
Itemize your entire workload. Which
projects are so undersupported that they are doomed to fail? Which projects
lack true sponsorship and commitment from key players in the organization? By
answering those two questions, you've identified your extraneous workload.
Ask for copies of whatever communication, reports, presentations your manager
presents to his bosses. Even if he hasn't focused your to-do's to a critical
few, the odds are that his few priorities are in those reports! And his few need
to be your few.
2. When you meet
with your manager,
acknowledge the pressures s/he must be under
A spoonful of sugar
helps the medicine go down.
Be empathetic to
how important all the goals must be, and how all the work must get done at some
"Can we talk
about which three things should be
my top focus for the next few [days, weeks or months]?"
You can succeed!