How to Stay Organized and Effectively Manage Your Workload

We know you have a lot on your plate.

You’re dealing with client expectations, project deadlines, and shifting priorities on your team, all while trying to keep everyone in your company on task and productive. But it takes a lot of time and effort to manage all the moving parts, and it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.

Project managers are often caught between managing their team’s workload and managing their own, and your ability to stay organized is critical to ensure the work gets done as efficiently as possible.

This is why it’s so important to think about how you’re prioritizing and organizing your workload.

Keeping your workload under control saves time, reduces costs, and improves productivity. Effective workload management streamlines your processes, so you’re not reinventing the wheel for every new project.

Where do you start? Here are four workload management tips to help manage both your time and your team’s time more effectively.

1. Set Clear Expectations

We spend most of our work life managing other peoples’ expectations. And when those expectations aren’t clearly communicated and reinforced, your team doesn’t know the boundaries in which they should operate.

Establish clear expectations from the beginning. Holding kickoff meetings for every new project clarifies your goals and expectations with the entire project team. Everyone involved should know the overall vision, what role they play, and how they’re expected to perform. Use these meetings to set ground rules, invite questions, and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Internal design documents are valuable for these initial conversations. These design documents act as an outline for project expectations, and typically include:

  • Background on the problem you’re solving, and why.
  • Goals and requirements of the project.
  • A high-level summary of the solution.
  • Design details for each subcomponent of the solution, along with testing strategies, security considerations, etc.
  • Frequently asked questions and answers about the project.

Design docs also reinforce expectations throughout the project and can save you from fielding the same questions, over and over again. When your engineers aren’t clear about design specs, for example, they have a living document available to reference, before having to ask you. Review your design document with clients and other stakeholders during check-in meetings to remind them of the goals and direction of the project.

Set clear and realistic expectations at the beginning of a project, and reinforce these expectations throughout. You’ll save yourself and your team a lot of time and stress, and avoid potential disappointment and distrust later on.

Takeaways:

  • Establish clear goals and expectations with kickoff meetings for every new project.
  • Use design documents to clarify and reinforce project goals and performance expectations.

2. Consistently Communicate

Even the smallest misunderstandings can burrow themselves into your team members’ minds, causing stress, frustration, and even resentment. But clear, consistent communication from the beginning can help avoid these troubling emotions altogether.

Consider establishing a communication process for each project. This structured process is critical as systems get more complex, so ideas and concerns don’t get lost between the various tools in your software stack.

Check in throughout the project to ensure everyone is moving in the right direction, and remind them of the project goals when you meet to keep their feedback actionable. Ask your team members to share how they’re feeling, what’s energizing them, and what’s challenging them.

This dialogue helps you understand when and how to shift resources to provide better support to the team.

People want to know their work is valued, so keep your team informed in every phase. Help them understand and stay focused on the big picture, support them, and continually recognize how their contributions are driving your projects forward.

Takeaways:

  • Build a communication process to capture and respond to your team’s feedback.
  • Check in with your team regularly to proactively address challenges and concerns.

3. Spread the Workload

Knowing who’s available for new or upcoming projects is incredibly valuable for you to be effective. What kind of skills do you have available on your team? Who’s actually available within the timeframe of the project? And how deep is your bench for these skills, if anything needs to change on the fly?

If your veteran designer Amelia has the knowledge and experience to do the work quickly, but she’s already over-capacity, offload some of her work to other team members so she can focus her time on the highest priority projects. While it’s tempting to throw hours at your high-performers, they can quickly become overworked and burnout.

Project work naturally ebbs and flows. People with specialized skills will be committing more time during certain parts of the project, and staffing needs will inevitably shift depending on the phase. But, you should be aware of how each team member is spending their time so you can stay flexible and adjust course when needed.

For example, a senior copywriter might get pulled in for a day to brainstorm or review a junior copywriter’s work. They won’t be expected to commit as much time or effort as everyone else on the team, but the mentorship is undoubtedly valuable to both the junior copywriter’s development and the overall quality of work that gets shipped to the client.

Training and mentorship will help less experienced team members get up to speed, although the additional support takes time and effort. The resourcing schedule needs to be strategically planned to include time for senior team members to help their less experienced peers.

You don’t have to spread the workload equally. The point is, everyone needs to understand the expectations and how they’re contributing to the higher-level goals. And if there are issues, they need to feel safe communicating, so the process doesn’t break.

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure everyone on the team has an equitable amount of work, based on their individual knowledge, skills, and experience.

Takeaways:

  • Know your available resources so you can easily adjust staffing when challenges arise.
  • Avoid overwhelming your high-performing talent by dividing the workload equitably.
  • Set aside time in the resourcing schedule for activities like training and development.

4. Always Be Learning

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

When you’re juggling multiple projects, data management is easier said than done. Of course, we’d love for you to use 10,000ft for time tracking, forecasting, and reporting, but if you don’t have the luxury of workload management software on hand, there are other ways to track your projects’ successes and challenges.

Effective workload management tools can be as simple as a notebook and ballpoint pen. As you go through a daily rundown of your projects, make a note of bottlenecks and opportunities. Pay attention to your daily wins. As team members and clients have questions or concerns, make a note of them, too.

Over time, you’ll be able to review your notes and track project performance and resourcing trends. Maybe one client’s projects consistently go over budget. Maybe one of your producers tends to be assigned more work than the rest of the team, while another one keeps asking for more responsibility. If you create a consistent habit of taking notes and reviewing them every week or month, you can identify what’s working, what’s not, and begin solving recurring issues, so they don’t persist.

Some helpful questions to answer with data include:

  • What worked well in this project?
  • Why did this project go over-budget?
  • Was this project profitable?
  • Who is overworked or underworked?
  • When can we take on new work?

Understanding and recording this data helps you identify what process changes you need to make, so you can iteratively improve how you prioritize and organize your workload.

Software like ours helps capture and organize this resourcing data more easily. But it’s less important how you capture the data; as long as you collect it and use it to proactively make smart decisions about your team’s workload.

Takeaways:

  • Track project data on an ongoing basis, including daily challenges and successes.
  • Use resourcing data to identify trends, opportunities, and recurring issues over time.

When your workload is overwhelming, you might feel like all you can do is contain the chaos around you. But being intentional about how you plan and organize your work helps alleviate some of the burden.

We’re not saying things will transform overnight. Change takes time. But you can begin to build the system today, to help improve your workflow long-term. Improve processes where you can, track your resourcing data, and start thinking strategically about how to proactively help your team feel better supported so that they can be more productive.

Anton Rius
September 19th, 2017
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