Work has been busy. You have so many projects to take care of and people keep stopping by to give you more work or take up your time with questions and small talk.
There is a project due today and yet two more somehow manage to land on your lap. Both are important, both are immediate, and both can only be done by you.
How can we fix this?
The problem here isn’t that there is too much too do. There’s too much to do well. There’s people to talk to and work to get done. By asking just a handful of questions though, you can avoid the stress of having to put in excessive hours or completing sub-par work.
Who else can answer these questions?
It’s nice to know stuff. It’s nice to be the go-to person for a subject. It’s nice to have somebody come and talk to you because they can depend on you.
When you’re in a crunch though, talking to people can be very time consuming. There are a bunch of niceties that you will usually have to go through, depending on how well you two know each other. Sometimes small talk may be involved – a dreaded thing when you have no time to spare.
The best way to overcome this is to consider anybody else who may have the answers the person is looking for. Hopefully, you’re not the only one who can help them. By suggesting that they could speak to somebody else, you are freeing yourself and at the same time still taking care of their questions!
If this is not possible, the only other alternative is to suggest that they ask you another time. You would want to do this as politely as possible while still being firm. You must not reconsider and give them a chance! Just let them know when you will be available and say “take care” or “I’ll see you then”.
What is this being used for?
We all like to believe that what we’re doing is important. In the business world, any work assigned should be important. What people tend to forget is that there are varying levels of importance. Those degrees of importance can help you determine how much effort to actually put into something.
I remember stepping from the accounting field into the strategy field. I did great as an accountant but when I made the switch I suddenly found myself falling behind on my work. It wasn’t that I did not have the skills – both jobs involved a lot of numbers and math. What I didn’t catch was the change in importance.
I could not perform tasks as quickly as expected because I was still thinking like an accountant. I checked every number multiple times. I ticked and tied to several different reports. My new job was not like that. I didn’t have to be 100% correct. In fact, that level of accuracy wasn’t expected. I just had to be 95% correct, or 90%, or even 80%.
Strategy is a directional field where all the pieces are constantly moving and the future isn’t written down and guaranteed by a contract. Even with a contract you can never really tell if the other party will (or can) uphold their end.
When will the person actually start looking at this?
We’re all busy people (especially you). As we gain real-world business experience, we quickly learn that people sometimes are late in meeting deadlines. Or perhaps we want this report early just in case we find time earlier than expected.
Doing this is good people management and usually not a problem. The benefit here is that if you are aware of this being done, you can find wiggle room where most people only see insufferable deadlines.
It’s not often in business that something is needed exactly by a certain date or everything falls apart. In fact part of the hidden allure of business is that most everything is negotiable. It’s the art of the deal – educating yourself in how the person will be using it and when will give you an upper hand in your scheduling. It gives you the ability to discuss a timeline that covers when they actually need it and when you can actually provide it.
Who else can take care of this project?
Remember what we covered in the “Who else can answer these questions?” section near the top? We’ll repeat that here but with a twist – if you do it right you can actually be providing value while doing less work. How is this possible? Read on.
We humans love to feel important. Yet having the world on our shoulders is an awesome burden to bear. It helps to have backup of some sort.
I’m talking about training people. Sure – in a pinch, you could probably recruit a more-or-less random person to help you with many tasks. The downside of this is that your time savings may not be that great. Often your helper will need some impromptu training and will have to ask a lot of questions. If not, they may be supplying sub-par work.
To fix this, it’s a good idea to always think about who you can train to do certain tasks. Don’t think about it as being lazy – you are investing for the future. As the saying goes, if you can’t be replaced you can’t be promoted. It also helps the company in case you are ever unavailable (such as during a vacation) to do your job.
Remember that a company is a team
You are not alone. You do not carry the weight of the firm on your single shoulders. Even the CEO has a team of people helping him. In any good company, if somebody is not stepping up to the plate you can almost always guarantee that there is somebody else willing and waiting to take their job – especially true in the CEO’s case.