Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Your billable hours for the month are due close of business today. Your top client has been waiting (somewhat impatiently) to see you for over 20 minutes. You had 30 days to complete a project, and your deadline is… say, tomorrow. And you are due home now for your daughter’s birthday celebrations.
Congratulations! You have entered Work Overload, the state of ‘Too Much Work, All the Time’. Anxiety, burnout, irritability, forgetfulness- all part of the clinic scenery - having a stressful day…
Seriously, how did we all get here?
We are all driven to Work Overload by our need to cope daily with clients, deadlines, scheduling conflicts, dozens (or hundreds) of e-mails, the continual interruptions of phone calls and other paging devices, and all the other demands of working.
We are stressed and we are wired! E-mail, cell phones, laptops, PDA’s- they were supposed to liberate us from Work Overload. Instead, mobile office technology has taken us hostage. Thanks to all this cool gear, we are now able to conduct business anytime and anywhere, we can no longer shut the office door. We check e-mail on the weekend or late at night, answer pages at all hours, send faxes from home, and work while we are on vacation- all because we can, and feel we have to.
Tactics to leave Work Overload behind:
The situation may seem out of control, but it is not hopeless. There are number of tactics you can use to blunt the worst impacts of Work Overload.
Don’t over-commit: Gracefully get out from under your most time-consuming and energy-draining clients. Ask yourself whether the work you are doing for the client is profitable, or more stressful than profitable. It is difficult to say ‘No’ to a client in today’s economic circumstances. But, just by relieving all the stress you are under, from one difficult client, you make yourself open and available to more of your ideal clients. And, have you noticed you are more productive and efficient when you are working with your ideal clients? Increased productivity equals increased billable hours used efficiently.
Learn to under-promise and over-deliver:
Give yourself a reserve of time. Make sure the client always feels he or she got more than expected. For example, if you can prepare the contract by Wednesday noon, tell your client you will have it done by Friday afternoon. Deliver it on Wednesday and you will be a hero! If you find that you cannot meet a deadline or deliver on time, let the client know about it immediately. Explain when you can complete the project, then get it done on time. Most people will not mind because you were honest.
When it is on the calendar, you do not always have to decide what to do next. Use your calendar to schedule appointments, deadlines (promised as well as statutory), time to actually do the work, and personal commitments. This will let you see at a glance when your workflow is headed for trouble, and allow you time to make adjustments.
Technology allows us to zip through many repetitious (and boring) office tasks. Automate as many of these tasks as possible. Start with standardized documents. Get in to ‘type it once’ mode for any standard letters, forms or notices. Use an advanced document automation system to produce or modify documents, and watch your paper workload shrink.
Tackle clusters of similar tasks each day:
Switching continually from one task to another and back makes your workload seem greater, and breeds inefficiency and stress. We all know how it is too easy to stop what you are doing to read a new e-mail. Try this: three times a day, do nothing but answer your e-mails (rather than answering them intermittently all day). If your internet connection is always on and the computer dings whenever you have a new e-mail, turn the ‘instant notification’ off. Similarly, nothing breaks concentration like having a client call about a matter unrelated to what you are working on. Set up ‘telephone free’ time. Mark off on your daily schedule the times when you accept phone calls and when you don’t. if you need to, give your administrative assistant a list of ideal clients to put through. Educate your clients on when you usually accept or return calls. They will usually call during those hours. Streamlining your workflow increases productivity with less stress and work anxiety.
Take a load off at least once a day:
Go to lunch. Take a short walk. Try to take a break during which you are not involved with clients, partners, or any work at all. If you cannot leave the building for even half hour, train yourself to step away from your desk now and then. If you need to discuss an issue with co-workers, think about having the meeting around a conference room table instead of through e-mail. Make sure your day includes some calls to friends, family, anyone outside of work who will not stress you out.
Reserve ‘sacred time’ to plan, everyday:
This means no interruptions for 20-30 minutes, so you can review your progress, prioritise work and set your schedule. It will clear your mind and your schedule.
Institute a ‘closed door’ policy:
Remember, the door swings both ways. Nothing stops unnecessary conversations like a closed door. Educate your partners on your work habits. They won’t be offended if they understand when you need to be left alone.
Turn these tactics in to daily work habits and wave Work Overload good goodbye :-) You will find you can still excel at your job and maintain a healthy professional livelihood.