The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you manage a heavy workload?” is written by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.
Almost everyone I know feels overwhelmed at times. You have to learn how to effectively manage a heavy workload without dropping any important balls or running yourself ragged. While each person is a bit different, over the years I’ve found five things have really made the difference for me to achieve and maintain peak performance:
Distinguish between urgent and important—and be sure to nail the important things
It’s hard when you just start out, but over time, it’s critical to learn the difference between what’s truly urgent and what’s truly important. Spoiler alert: Few things are equally urgent and important. Each of these is a judgement call. In my experience, urgent items are normally faster to do and less strategic, but pressing to the person asking. Things like getting the factual answer to your boss’s question might fit into this category.
Conversely, important things most often require thought and planning, and hence take more time to complete—sometimes many weeks. Things like drafting a big, new business proposal or doing a strategic review of an existing product might fall into this category. These are the real game-changing opportunities—the tasks that really matter to your organization, and therefore, the ones that, done well, will help you stand out. The key is learning to distinguish which category each request falls into and based on that, how and when to properly get the work done.
Learn how your energy flows and plan accordingly
Some people are morning people. Some are night owls. Knowing when you perform best and managing your schedule accordingly can literally add hours to your day. For me, that means reserving early mornings for writing or thinking, whereas my afternoons are usually packed with meetings: I’m more likely to be tired in the afternoon, but since I’m an extrovert, I get energy from being with others. Every person is different, but knowing how and when you perform various tasks best can literally gain you extra hours to do your work—without actually working longer.
Ask for help—at work and at home
You can’t ask for help with everything at work, but you can—and should—ask for help when you really need it. As women, we often feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It’s not. Have the confidence to know when getting help is the smart thing to do and learn who you can turn to in order to get it. As you move up in your career and your home life gets more complicated, apply that same confidence. Whatever you can’t or don’t want to do at home, as soon as you can afford it, hire someone else to do it. And don’t feel guilty about it, either. There are only so many hours in the day. After all, most successful men figured out long ago that you need a “wife” at home to make it all work.
Manage your downtime as much as your work time
Every half hour counts. So, learn to manage and use your non-working hours. Everybody needs some genuine downtime—time when you can really rest, relax, and de-stress. Figure out what works for you and commit to doing it. But for all of that other “unproductive” time—for me, this includes things like taxi rides, commuting time, waiting at kid pickups and drop-offs, etc.—put it to use. I read newspapers or other work items, do some social media promotion, or even re-connect with remote friends and family. The point is, if it isn’t your restorative time, use it to the fullest extent possible to get done the other things on your plate.
Be highly organized
I put this last, but being highly organized is absolutely critical to success—even in the more creative fields. My family teases me that I am the queen of planning and lists. And I admit it: I am. I have a list for every day of the week, including weekends. And I write down and plan time for everything I have to get done—professional and personal. A couple of months ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about this new trend called “bullet journaling,” where you categorize everything on your to-do list. I have three separate businesses, so each of those gets its own column, and then I have a column for meetings/calls for that day, and a column for personal items, as well. Things like “work out” are on my personal list six days a week, and I can honestly say that putting it on the list has really helped me make it happen.
My journal is small and goes with me everywhere, so whenever I think of a new idea or a new to-do, I can easily capture it. Doing this helps ensure you don’t forget what’s on your plate, and helps you map out when exactly you will try to accomplish each task so your days are full, but manageable. For maximum effectiveness, I try to make each day a blend of important and challenging; urgent but easy/quick; necessary but routine; writing vs. meetings, etc.
Of course things will pop up that throw your whole list off for a day—or even a week. But starting out each morning with clarity about the most important things you’re trying to accomplish and an understanding of the totality of what is on your plate is your best chance for staying on top of everything, doing it well, and not feeling overwhelmed. Contrary to what others may think, keeping a record like this also makes it easier for me to have fun because I know when the key items on my list are done, I can relax without guilt.