Research shows 90 per cent of managers drown in the classic time wasters such as meetings, dealing with crises, mediating disputes and micro-managing instead of delegating, outsourcing or ignoring them altogether.
Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal‘s research in the Harvard Business Review found only 10 per cent of managers spent time on work that had a long-term benefit to the business.
To prevent joining that 90 per cent, here are some tips that will help reduce your workload without committing career suicide:
Say no more often
Most of us hate saying no at work because we don’t want anyone to be mad at us or we’re afraid of refusing a request in today’s gloomy economic climate. But it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
If the request is unfair, you can say no politely while giving your reasons and sweetening the blow with a helpful suggestion: “Why don’t you try asking Jack, he was working on that last week.”
If you’ve already said yes to too many things, you can go back and say no. Just be honest with people and explain why – that you have some important and urgent projects to complete and can no longer do theirs.
Program manager Anne agrees: “This happens sometimes and it’s always better to hear about it sooner than way after the due date when you’re chasing them and it’s both our butts on the line.”
Love your lists
Leo Babauta of blog Zen Habits admits: “I still have long lists of things to do but I don’t look at them much any more. Now my list is basically three essential things I want to do today.”
He recommends spending at least half your working day on these because they are your major goals — what you’re paid for. Do these first and don’t let them fester or get pushed back to the end of the week or month. Also write down the smaller, still-important tasks you need to do and set aside a chunk of 30 minutes to get through phone calls, emails and letter writing. Make sure they are all relevant to your bigger goals.
“You might have a few left at the end of the day,” Babauta concedes. “Better to leave the small tasks until tomorrow than the big ones.”
Cull your information
Eliminate outdated or irrelevant email newsletters, RSS feeds and snail mails. You’ll save time by not automatically ploughing through junk in order to find the gems.
Avoid distractions like emails by training yourself to only check them twice a day. Likewise, book a time once a day to check your voicemail and return phone calls.
Laptops, mobile phones, PDAs, the internet and conference calls mean we can work anywhere, any time. This technological convenience can unfortunately translate to “all the time”, so that you’re checking your emails at 6am and texting at midnight.
Mike Gunderloy of Webworker Daily asks: “Why should you encourage your co-workers to expect you to be working at 11pm just because you work at home? Decide what your working hours are and stick to them.”
Work-life balance expert Carolyn Clarke says: “Always delegate when possible. Prioritise those tasks that are vital, those that are needed and those that are desired … and work first to accomplish the vitals before going on to the others. Hire out when possible as well.”
Managers should delegate as much as they can to their staff. The more things you can get off your plate, the easier it is for you to manage your workload. Don’t forget to give the staff member a reasonable time frame and enough information to do the task properly.
Even if you have no one working for you, you may still be able to delegate. Explain to your boss all the projects you have and decide together which ones are highest priority and how long it will take to do them. Delegating back to your boss or colleagues not only reduces your workload but gives others the opportunity to try new tasks.
Can you “just say no” to more work from the boss?