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How Big is Your Plate? Navigating the Work “Buffet”

How Big is Your Plate? Navigating the Work “Buffet”

Dec 18, 2017

How Big is Your Plate? Navigating the Work “Buffet”

When someone asks how you’re doing, how do you generally reply? If you’re like me, you probably respond, “Oh, I’m so busy.” I often think “busy” is the new “fine!” For some being crazy busy is a badge of honor; for others it’s a continual source of stress. The pace of work isn’t going to slow down anytime soon, so how do we manage our own ability to get everything done?

I think of this issue of personal capacity like a buffet. Each of us has a “plate,” which represents our baseline capacity to get things done. This includes how new we are to a particular role, other challenges or priorities outside work, how much energy we have, our current state of health, etc. Then, we can look at the buffet items as all the things we can do or need to do for our job. Sometimes, we load up our plate with just a few items; other times we want to sample a lot of little things (which often fills our plate up even more!). Either way, we have to be aware of our own plate size, so that things don’t fall off the sides without our realizing it. And, have we saved any room for that slice of cheesecake?

Granted, we don’t always have control of our workload on a given day, week or month. However, I believe we have more control than we think we do. Here are some tips for managing your personal capacity:

  • Block time. To the extent that you have control of your calendar, block time during the day or week for uninterrupted thinking or writing time.
  • Batch work. Do similar tasks within the same time period. Check emails at certain times during the day, or schedule employee check-ins on a given afternoon.
  • Schedule to 80 percent. Look at how many meetings you have during a given day. If you are in more than four meetings in a row, check to see if one can be moved to another day, to give you some breathing room. Better yet, communicate with whomever schedules your meetings to give you that space whenever possible.
  • Have 45 minute meetings. What if you were able to accomplish everything you needed to in a meeting in 45 minutes, giving you time to capture action steps, prepare for your next meeting, go to the restroom, grab a snack, etc. This approach not only helps you with your own capacity, but trains everyone to conduct meetings more efficiently.
  • Know your natural rhythms. Are you a morning person or an afternoon person? Are you more creative at certain times of the day? (For example, I write better after 3pm). Recognize and honor your own rhythms and schedule tasks accordingly.
  • Have supportive routines. Getting your morning coffee, scheduling a “walk and talk” with someone, or doing something fun to reward yourself for completing a project—these all are rituals or routines that protect and even enhance your capacity.

In the coming week, think about your personal capacity, and what approaches you can take to ensure that your plate doesn’t overflow day after day after day. And remember to leave a little room for dessert.

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