Balance, Career Advancement

Wearing too many hats? Here’s how to tackle multiple priorities at work

Photo credit: varuna, Shutterstock

Photo credit: varuna, Shutterstock

Despite our titles, very rarely do we have just one role. You aren’t just a program manager; you’re a teacher/hiring manager/fundraiser. You aren’t just a founder; you’re a marketer/accountant/data analyst. Reasons for this may vary: perhaps due to budget cuts, you have to shoulder additional projects or if you work for a small or new organization, wearing multiple hats just comes with the territory.

Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself taking on more and more responsibilities at work and are starting to feel overwhelmed, here are a few tips to get a handle on your workload.

Clarify your priorities

As you start to see projects pile up on your desk, or even if there was an official meeting where you were tasked with taking on the responsibilities of an open position, take some time to talk one-on-one with your manager. Figure out what tasks are really priorities and what will just have to wait until you have more time.

This can be a hard conversation to have with your manager or even with yourself. To start, here are a few questions to consider inspired by Business Productivity:

  1. What projects will have negative consequences if we put them off?
  2. What projects will give us the biggest return if we tackle them now?
  3. What are the long-term projects that can be done slowly over time and what are the short-term projects that require immediate attention?

Reach out to others

Once you have a better handle of what exactly needs to be done, know who else can help. What can you delegate to others? If you’re short staffed, how is everyone working together to tackle organizational needs? Sometimes, a team approach can be the best way to get something accomplished or someone else may be better suited (or have more time) to take on some of your work.

Stay organized and manage your time

We could have an entire blog devoted to time management, and there is lots of advice on how to make the most of your time. Lifehacker has a great post about how to manage your work and personal life when everything is a priority, with advice on getting organized and forcing yourself to tackle a big project. I am a fan of both daily and weekly to-do lists, and The Daily Muse suggests putting one big project, three medium-sized ones, and five small tasks on your to-do list each day.

Additionally, a big part of staying organized is setting realistic deadlines and goals. To do this, consider working backwards to identify what key things need to be done by when.  When possible, give yourself a little wiggle room to account for your challenging workload.

Get to work

Sometimes, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do the work. Over on LinkedIn, Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has six tips for getting things done, including tackling big projects with a partner-in-crime, doing dreaded tasks first thing in the morning, and taking a short amount of time now to prepare for something that you know is coming up soon.

I like the idea over on 99U of breaking down bigger tasks and projects and calling it “research.” Figure out small steps to take to prepare you for the task—emailing people, reading articles on the topic, learning what happened at that event last year, calling an expert you know, setting up a meeting with the entire team. Do one or two of those steps a day as research and background information, and when it’s time to finish the project, you will have been working on it for days.

Know that you can’t do everything

Some things just won’t get done. Aside from having limited time in a day, you also want to ensure that you don’t burn out. Be OK saying no to some things and setting your boundaries.

Be proud of what you do accomplish

When you’re working around the clock, it’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day grind of just getting things done. Keep track of what you achieve as evidence that you are moving towards your goals while helping the organization fulfill its mission.

Do you have multiple priorities at your job? How do you deal with all the deadlines and projects? Any other advice?

14 Comments

  1. This article comes at the right time … I really need it. THANKS!

  2. Grrrl

    What about jobs that you just aren’t qualified to do? I know that it isn’t on this list, but there have been times a boss throws work that I have no idea how to accomplish because my department doesn’t handle that or the boss is cheap and not providing real training so I’m unsure of what he’s talking about and he just presumes I’ll do it because “That last guy who quit did it…”. File this under “Really misleading job listings…”

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