11 January 2011

The Follies and Foibles of Wearing Too Many Hats

There are a couple of different shortcomings to spreading yourself too thin in an organization. This is a concept I've become intimately familiar with in the past few months as my new position at a new company has required me to tackle everything from office management, project management, human resources, training and customer support. Not going to say I've discovered the secret just yet, but here are a few tricks I've learned to gain some balance.

1. Focus on one vertical at a time.
For me, this means that if I'm reviewing resumes or prepping for reference checks, I focus all of my attention on that task at that moment. Same for customer support. It's easy in our multi-screen world to divide our attention, touching a bit on every thing instead of really taking the time to dive into one task. Trust me, you'll feel a lot more successful at the end of the day if you can check one or two things off your list, as opposed to looking at it and thinking, "Well, I did a little bit of everything, but not all of one thing."

2. Reintroduce yourself to the concepts of priorities and delegation.
It's easy to think we're experts at these two concepts. I mean, we get up in the morning and instead of watching TV for an hour, we shower and go to work. That's prioritization, right? We take our clothes to the dry cleaners, surely that's an example of delegation. Nope, not even close. The idea is to really examine what you must get done in a day against what you want to get done in a day. If you're lucky, completing the former will leave you time for the latter. If you're not, than what you want to get accomplished will need to wait until tomorrow - that's prioritization.

As for delegation - this is the hardest concept to really learn, even for those who aren't A personalities (I know, hard to believe those folks exist, isn't it?) We have to realize that there are other people, on your team, in your organization, maybe in the next cube, who can do some of the tasks you're convinced only you can complete. You're not that indispensable, someone else can do it. They won't do it exactly like you, but they'll do it. Let your expectations go and you'll be amazed how much easier it is to assign work to others.

3. If you don't know something about an area, learn it.
I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of months scouring the Internet, researching blogs and looking for information on areas I'm just not that familiar with. Now, I subscribe to a couple Human Resources blogs, a couple of tech journal RSS feeds and regularly investigate night or continuing education classes I can take to learn more. Knowing more will give you confidence. So, know more.

4. It's okay to throw in the towel--occasionally.
During the winter especially, my desire to get out of my nice, warm bed in the morning and go to work is at an all-time low. However, motivating yourself on a 20 degree morning to scrape ice from your car and drive to work when you're feeling overwhelmed is a near Herculean task. And it's okay to admit it. Last week, I got overwhelmed; I-feel-like-I'm-drowning-in-over-my-head overwhelmed. And you know what? I let it out. Wasn't pretty, but man did I feel better afterwards. And getting to that point gave me the courage to go to my boss and say, "This is too much."

Some of you don't work for managers who would understand this concept and to you I say, I'm sorry. Find someone in your organization who gets it, someone who can offer a sympathetic ear and vent to them. But don't bottle it up. You'll get frustrated, you'll get tired, you'll get depressed. Even worse, your work will suffer, giving the overwhelmed feeling the fuel it needs to grow. If you go through a couple of these "I'm gonna lose it" periods over a six month timeframe, and you've communicated your frustrations as much as your organization's culture allows, then prep your resume and get ready to go on some interviews. Life's too short--cliche, but still true.

I could probably point out a dozen other ways to keep your head above water while juggling a million different tasks, but I think they'd simply be iterations of those I've already mentioned. It really boils down to three keys:

1. Stay positive
2. Vent when necessary
3. Ask for help

Maybe if I can remember my own advice, I won't feel so overwhelmed.

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