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“So many projects, so little time"

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Biggest Challenge at Work Commentary are Tim’s thoughts on real-life challenges submitted by readers like you. Want to send us your challenge? Take the Biggest Challenge at Work Survey

“So many projects, so little time”
Corporate Communications Director

In the last post, I wrote about balance. I can already hear the skeptics laughing in the background. “Good luck with that, Tim! I just need to get through the quarter.”

Okay, let’s talk about that. In my ongoing Biggest Challenge at Work survey, various productivity concerns make up nearly a third of the list. It makes perfect sense, since we are at work. Work creates more work. If you are one person responding to the needs of many, you are going to get swamped. But wait! There is more than one person in your group, in your company and in your world. When you figure them into the equation, the challenge becomes sharing work, not adding time.

You can’t solve a problem until you frame it in a way that invites a solution. Saying “I don't have time” does little to point you in the right direction. When productivity is a challenge, train yourself to ask a different set of questions. Who can help me with my project? Who knows about it more than I do? What do other people need to know in order to help me?

Those are better challenges to have. Unlike time, the amount of sharing you can do is unlimited. But here’s the problem. Sharing work means sharing knowledge. And we don’t always know what we know ourselves, let alone being able to communicate it to other people.

This is where technology really helps. Is it any wonder that the most successful tech companies of our time: Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are in the business of sharing knowledge? Coincidentally, these are also the best places to work I talk so much about in Who The Hell Wants to Work for You?

What do these companies know that we don’t? And what do they practice that we forget?

Clearly, all three companies have a passion for connecting the world. Notice something else. Their products allow us to communicate more by doing less. Facebook lets you know what’s happening in your friends’ world. There’s literally nothing to do, except to turn on your phone, which most people never turn off anyway. LinkedIn brings you jobs and recruiters, and lets other people update your skills for you. Google Docs lets multiple people work on the same document at the same time.

Social media is designed to reduce the number of steps between doing and communicating. In some cases—when using shared workspace, for example—it doesn’t take any extra steps at all: you communicate by doing.

So, if teens can get help with homework using social media, could our Corporate Communications Director get a head start on his projects using similar means?

By similar means, of course, I mean social intranets and other types of social business software. The technology to get the help you need when you need it is there. Many are cloud solutions requiring minimal input from corporate IT. So, even if some of his projects are, in fact, to improve systems, the Corporate Comms Director might still come out ahead by looking into making business more social.

Honestly, when your head is full of projects, the last thing you want to be is a lone wolf. Most top execs and CEOs know this fact. They involve other people at every step of the project. Not just to delegate execution, but to brainstorm ideas, set priorities, allocate resources, monitor progress, and evaluate results.

Unfortunately, folks outside of top management often lose sight of the importance of getting help. Maybe they feel like they are not entitled to help. In the last post we’ve talked about people not feeling entitled to having balance in their lives and what it does to the morale. Same here. If you don’t see people reaching across business units and departments for quick advice, you might not think it’s the right thing to do. The more overwhelmed you get, the less likely you are to holler, because you’d assume that everyone is in the same boat as you. And then you’d be asked to serve on the employee engagement council and come up with some clever ideas. And you’d say, “Gee-whiz, let me add that to my list…”

Take the case of our Corporate Comms Director. It’s possible, and even likely, that he doesn’t have any direct reports. He could even be the first in his company to hold that post. Right away he is faced with head-spinning options. Press releases. Interviews. Sponsorships. Social media. Philanthropy. Special Projects… Even if he did have a staff of ten to jump on everything at once, it may not be wise to do so. Because some of these projects are going to be much more valuable than others.

Instead of checking items off his to-do list, our Director’s job becomes to constantly change and shuffle the list. So that the most feasible and impactful project—the one whose time has truly come—is the one being worked on. And how to better gage feasibility and impact than to ask a bunch of people for their knee-jerk reaction. Even better if you can do it without standing outside of their cubicles or cluttering their inboxes.

Whether or not your job comes with direct reports, you are always forever entitled to the best possible resources to get it done. This kind of thinking will eventually get you promoted. You may even become so resourceful that you’d want to start your own company. In either case, you’ll need to share your agenda and stay connected with lots of people. Maybe the whole company and beyond.

Start today.

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If you barely have time to read this blog post, you might like my book, because it reads fast and it helps you turn things around--fast.

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Tim Eisenhauer
About Tim Eisenhauer
Tim is the author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Break Down the Invisible Barriers to Employee Engagement. He's also a co-founder and president of Axero, a technology company that makes intranet software for businesses. He's spilt insightful ink on the pages of Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and other top publications.

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