You are juggling multiple responsibilities at work, all with rapidly approaching deadlines. Meanwhile, your personal obligations are piling up. You are beginning to feel the pressure of it all.
If this sounds the least bit familiar to you, know that you are not alone. The mantra at many companies today is to do more with less. How do you approach managing multiple priorities?
The truth of the matter is that multitasking just isn’t possible if you want to deliver at the highest levels.
The human mind may be truly amazing, but it does have limitations when dealing with many things at any one moment.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example. You have multiple client proposals to write, a business case on a new initiative is coming due, you have numerous client meetings to schedule, your inbox is flooded with emails and you feel like you don’t have time to think.
All of these items on your to-do list have a high priority and you are having trouble focusing on one without thinking of the others.
The more your mind drifts off topic, thinking about other projects, the more productive time you are losing that you will never get back.
The best way to maximize productivity is through compartmentalization.
Here’s my suggestion: Imagine you have a shelf holding numerous boxes. Each of those boxes represents one of your projects or initiatives.
The secret is to open only one box at a time and while that box is open, that particular project receives 100 percent of your attention.
It is absolutely incredible how much more productive you will be when you stay focused on one priority at a time.
Try to schedule your day so that every hour is assigned to a particular priority. Another box is not opened until the prior box has been closed.
Keep in mind many of the boxes could represent high-priority items. However, it’s just not possible to do justice to any one priority while your mind is drifting to the others.
I find email to be a distraction that eats up a great deal of time. My suggestion is to block out specific times for email and cleaning out your inbox.
This is much better than working on emails throughout the day and distracting yourself from your other priorities again and again.
Maybe you already know where I am going. Emails should be in a totally separate box on your imaginary shelf. Carve out specific times to work on emails when all other boxes are closed.
When you are working on other boxes, your email box should be closed and sitting back on that imaginary shelf.
What happens when more and more projects fall on your plate, thus creating more boxes on your shelf?
Can you begin delegating some responsibilities? Many people hesitate to delegate because they feel others will not do the job as well — and that may in fact be true.
However, the only way employees will grow is to empower them with responsibilities and give them every opportunity to succeed.
Once you start to delegate, you will be able to reduce the number of boxes on your imaginary shelf. You also will find that your team will be more productive, a must in this fast-paced business environment.
The goal here is to carefully select and pass some boxes to members of your team.
If you have family at home, this is your most important box. Many people (including me) find there just aren’t enough hours in a work day to accomplish everything and our work time spills over to our personal time.
This is where we lose work-life balance. Time with our spouses, partners, children and parents is important. If working at home after hours becomes a must at times, choose times that are least likely to interfere with family time.
The key is not to short-change your family, as they represent the most important box on your shelf.
I use this strategy of compartmentalization, and it really helps me manage my time. Try it. You may find yourself to be much more productive and less stressed.
Gary A. Cohen is associate dean of the Office of Executive Programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is a certified executive coach and had a successful 30-year corporate career, with the last 15 as a senior executive. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @gary_a_cohen and on LinkedIn.