Have you ever had the feeling that you were overloaded at work? That feeling of too many things to do and not enough time to get everything done? I have. This situation actually demotivates me from wanting to do anything at all (what’s the point?) and takes the joy out of doing work I might otherwise enjoy because I know I have to rush though it to get to the next thing. Sound familiar?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a system in place at your work that ensured you did not take on too much and kept you focused on the most important stuff? We are experimenting with just such a system at IBEX these days. The system asks leaders and staff to propose a few options of what is most important to work on in the next six weeks by the various teams. We then ask each team how much of the work on these things they can get done in the next six weeks. Sometimes they think they can get it all done; sometimes only part of it. We look at their estimates of how much could be done towards certain objectives (if they were the focus) and then choose which options to advance. For our staff who have regular duties outside of projects (most do), they must keep these in mind in addition to the project work they are committing to.
To make this system work, leaders need to adopt a “not now, maybe later” approach to all the other stuff that the world wants to throw at them for the next six weeks. We have committed each person or team for the next six weeks while also getting all regular duties done. How can we add more? We can’t! The “not now, maybe later” approach means we can’t do this now, we are fully committed. But we will consider this new thing, along with all other options, during the next work cycle. This gives people space to get important work done without a huge pile of future to-do’s hanging over them. That list is there, but we have committed to none of it yet. During the next planning cycle, the most important few items will get picked and focused on. Until then, we can all focus on what the current priorities are.
Basically, this system forces two things. It forces people to figure out what they could get done towards a certain goal in a certain amount of time, and it forces leaders to choose priorities. The realities this system is forcing on us are profound. There is only so much time available and we need to be very careful about how we spend it. We can’t pretend to be all things to all people or get everything done for everybody. In return, we get realistic workloads and reduced stress for those doing the work, and predictable results for the company and our customers.
“Not now, maybe later” looks like it might be a new mantra for us.