During this time of year, people typically have more on their “To Do” lists because of holiday activities. According to Mental Health America, 34% of people surveyed listed “having too much to do” as a major holiday stressor. When overwhelmed, I use a time management tool that I learned from the late Jennifer White of the JWC Group. It’s a simple and memorable acronym called The Great DANE, which stands for: Delegate, Automate, Negotiate, Eliminate.
Here’s how it works— whenever you are faced with “too many things to do”, think your way through the Great DANE for strategies to ease your work load.
Delegate: Professionals who don’t have staff reporting to them think that delegating isn’t appropriate. In some cases, it isn’t. However, what if you shift your thinking beyond the traditional “hand off to another person”, to “bartering for services”? Identify what do you hate doing (and therefore expend more energy than necessary) that a colleague loves to do? Can you “barter” by asking him to help you out in brainstorming talking points for a report you need to write (this is what you hate) and in turn, you can edit his report (which you enjoy)? You may find that by avoiding a brain-draining activity, you actually save time.
Automate: This may seem at first at technology-based suggestion. Certainly, there are ways to automate functions, like creating filters for your email. However, “automate” can be low-tech as well. Think of all the basic, rote tasks that you do repeatedly. Now, think of how you could “automate” them to be more efficient. In other words, create a system once and use it over and over again, rather than starting from scratch. For example, one my colleagues is an internal training professional at a large company. She facilitates the same series of six training sessions three times a year. She created a list of all tasks needed to prepare for and deliver the class— tasks lists for “3 months ahead”, “2 months ahead”, etc. She put these lists onto the Training Department’s shared computer drive. Now, she can refer to that same list over and over again. An additional benefit is that because she wrote her list down, she can enlist others (delegating) if needed. And, when she unexpectedly went on sick leave, others were able to access the list and keep the project moving forward.
Negotiate: This is the step that many people think isn’t an option. As the old saw goes, “Everything is negotiable.” The best time to negotiate is when the initial request comes in. If you know that you won’t be able to deliver, be up front. Say, “I’d really like to help you out, but with my current workload, I’m concerned the quality of the work will suffer. How about if we do X instead?” Negotiating still can work after you’ve made a commitment. Soldiering on, trying to do the impossible, will only lead to a disappointed customer or colleague, which doesn’t serve anybody. If you realize you aren’t going to meet a deadline, let your customer know (the sooner the better!) and see if perhaps the deadline can be adjusted. Or, if the deadline is non-negotiable, find out if any part of the deliverable can be tweaked.
Eliminate: Again, many people think this is completely off the table, especially at work. It’s true that some tasks are non-negotiable. I’m not advocating that you decide, in a vacuum, what you’ll no longer do. However, it is a great exercise to ask—“Does this really need to be done? What will happen if I don’t do it?” Listen to the answer. If you truly can’t find any benefit, then discuss it with your supervisor. He or she will help you see the bigger context of why it’s necessary. Or, if you’re lucky, there will be agreement and it’ll be taken off your plate. If you are the supervisor, bring the question to your team—I guarantee that they can give you several tasks that they deem unnecessary.
Using the Great DANE has helped me focus and prioritize, especially at times when my To Do list seems insurmountable.
What are your favorite time management tips? What suggestions or advice do you have for people feeling overwhelmed?
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photo credit: istockphoto.com © Eric Isselée