New Manager Overwhelm
New managers often report being overwhelmed by their workload.  They struggle to keep up with all their new and unfamiliar responsibilities.  It’s daunting.  They feel stressed about completing their
“To Do” list while they try to focus on leading and coaching their teams effectively.

The Temptation
When faced with too many tasks and too little time, many of us default to checking off the so-called “urgent” and relatively simple tasks, regardless of their importance or value.  It is not at all uncommon for managers to focus on urgent tasks (sometimes good), to ignore non-urgent activities (usually good), and to put off important projects (not usually good).

The Research
A 2018 study from Johns Hopkins asked participants to make trade-off decisions between tasks that varied in urgency and importance. It was set up so that urgent tasks expired faster, but important tasks paid more.

The research found that people prefer to finish the urgent tasks first and plan to work on important tasks later because:

  • Important Tasks are usually more difficult and further away from goal completion
  • Urgent Tasks involve more immediate and certain payoffs

And the busier research subjects got, the more they resorted to crossing off the urgent despite the important tasks being more highly paid.

The Problem
Too many managers – especially those in a matrixed environment who must act as player-coaches at work – choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows instead of important tasks with larger outcomes.  Why?  It is a natural tendency and a way to feel more in control over days where you feel you have too much on your plate.

The problem is that, when important tasks are pushed aside and left undone, meaningful and strategic productivity decreases.  This is not good for you as a manager, for your direct reports, for the team, or for the business.

The 4-Step Solution to How to Better Manage Workload as a New Manager
It’s time to pull the team together and embark on a different, more effective, proven way to invest your time day-to-day.  It requires some business and organizational acumen, analysis, prioritizing, and discipline, but the payoff will be worth it.

  1. Step Back
    Set aside half an hour at the beginning of the week to review your calendar for the next two to three weeks.
  2. Prioritize
    List upcoming tasks according to the Urgent/Important model that is a template for prioritizing how you should spend your time. For this to work, all key stakeholders must agree on what makes tasks Urgent and Important.  Remember, expectation management is a big part of effectively managing an overwhelming workload.
  3. Focus on the Important
    Block out and set aside two hours each day to address the most important tasks on your list. And then make sure you are not distracted by phone calls, emails, or any other interruptions.  This is where the discipline comes in.  To be efficient and give the important tasks the attention they deserve, you need to be able to ruthlessly focus.
  4. 90-Days
    Do this for a minimum of 90 days so you can practice new ways of behaving, create new habits, get 360-feedback, and assess the impact of your new approach to workload management.

The Results from Following These Tips
In a controlled experiment involving about 50 employees, the half that followed the new workload management program reported being:

  • 14% more effective with their time
  • 12% more productive
  • 9% less stressed by their workload

The best news may be that the improved productivity and engagement levels did not come at the expense of customer service, as compared with the group that did not embrace the new workload management techniques.

The Bottom Line
New managers can use these workload management techniques to better manage both their own workload and their team’s workload.  Almost nothing is worse than working for a boss who does not effectively prioritize workloads with and for their team.  The proven workload management framework supports a disciplined, intentional use of time that can lessen stress, increase well-being, and boost productivity.

To learn more about getting the most from your team as a new manager, download 3 Must-Have Ingredients of High Performing Teams for New Managers

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