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I recently got asked to take on two new items of work.  My first order of business was to create a plan so that I could balance my time and set expectations.

Both of the new tasks are pretty high visibility.  There has been a little bit of belt tightening in our area lately, as I work in the health care sector and things are generally getting squeezed due to anticipated revenue falls from the changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama-care).  My role had largely been a support role, and while it fed a lot of people a lot of important information, the tasks weren’t on the ‘front lines’, so to speak, and I had been trying to get some more high visibility work.

Wouldn’t you know it, two new items fell into my lap within days.  This meant that I went from keeping busy to extraordinarily busy within about 48 hours.  In order to be successful, I have to provide value not just for the job I was doing but also in the two new areas that I have been asked to work with.

So how can you be successful at getting all of the new work done as well as keeping a handle on my current workload?  I’m glad you asked.

Estimate your workload for each new area.  One of the new tasks I’m given will not take a tremendous amount of time.  It will probably take about 3-4 hours in a normal week, and then another 3-4 hours worth of work once per month.  The second task that I was given will probably consume over half of my working time as there are a number of deliverable that need to be met over the next 12-15 months.

Being able to properly estimate the work that you are being asked to do is a key to being able to move forward and develop a plan where you can be successful and even stand out to your boss.

Always think of a game plan in advance.  My current job keeps me busy full time, but I have always known that it’s been a possibility that additional work could be given to me which would require some or all of my time.  Unless my bosses told me that my function would be going away as a result, I know that the expectation would be there that I would keep the key functions of my current role in a steady state.

This led me to map out my current job and identify what areas are critical and what could reasonably be suspended.  I currently do a lot of reporting on usage, and I estimate how future projects will impact the usage of key resources in our area.  I have mapped out that if a big chunk of my time were needed, that I could continue to report on the current areas which we’ve identified, but that working to develop new areas, which takes up a big amount of time, could be suspended.  I’ve developed this plan, and this made it an easy conversation to have with my managers when they asked if I would be interested in taking on the additional work.

By having worked this out in advance, I was able to provide a high level action plan that gave assurance to my boss that I would be able to succeed in my new role while still delivering value in my current role.

Communicate your plan.  One of the first things I did after I sat down and made up my list of priorities is communicate them to my bosses.  In this case, I was sort of adding a boss because one of the assignments had me reporting up to a different group.  This made communicating even more important!  By communicating to everybody that was responsible for assigning me work, I was able to verify that my expectations were in line with theirs.  In this case they were.

Build a bridge.  Communicating my personal plans also had a side benefit in my situation.  There were differing expectations on how much time I would be available to dedicate to one of the tasks.  The person in charge felt that I should be committed 100%, where my regular boss (who oversaw the other two pieces of my work) felt that I was still needed in the other areas.  By bringing up my expectations, it also brought out the fact that there was a difference of opinion between the bosses, and they are now working this out.  Without my communicating my own plans, this might not have come to light, since it’s a known fact that different areas of management simply don’t communicate with each other.

Learn the right time to say no.  If it wasn’t crazy enough that both new assignments came the same week, I also got an invitation from my boss to participate in a planning committee designed to promote learning within our group.  We don’t have much of a training budget right now, but it’s important to keep up on industry trends.  As such, she asked if people wanted to volunteer to put something together.

I thought about it and I said no.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a team player, because I do.  It wasn’t because I was too busy, because as she pointed out, everybody that had already accepted her invitation onto the planning committee was busy as well.  It was that the timing was poor.   I explained to her that because both of the tasks I had just accepted were brand new to me, I wanted to make sure that I was able to start working towards success in those projects.  Since they were both brand new items to me, I knew that I would need a lot of introductions to new people, I would have to learn some additional skills, and would have a lot of work at the very beginning to get things kicked off.

In other words, it was a different kind of busy than the being busy later on down the road.  The work I would be doing in the beginning will help build the foundation of my success moving forward.  Because this was happening on not one, but two fronts, simultaneously, I felt it was important to concentrate my immediate efforts on planting the seeds to start my work in those two areas.

Express the willingness to compromise.  Even though I said no, I still wanted to let her know that I thought her idea was good and that I was willing to work toward the success of the team…just not now.  So, I didn’t just decline the planning meeting within Outlook, I declined and wrote a short note outlining exactly what I said above, and that I would be more than happy to consider planning a follow-up activity, at which point it would be likely that I’d be more firmly entrenched in both of the new activities, and that taking on something new would be less of a risk.

She was totally cool with that.

In summary, there are many important steps to take when things suddenly get busy for you.  You should immediately set priorities, communicate, and clearly understand expectations.  If you do those things, you will have a much better chance at not only succeeding with your new work, but keeping your sanity and keeping a manageable schedule along the way.