Work has a natural ebb and flow. Whatever career you choose, you’ll quickly find that there is always work to do. While keeping yourself occupied during the slowdowns can be an issue for some, most of us don’t truly experience workplace stress until we have to bear a particularly heavy workload. That’s when good workload management can really come in handy.
While our first instinct when we’re overwhelmed may be to attempt to multitask, that would be a mistake. Any potential “benefits” of multitasking are actually a myth. As we will prove below, multitasking does nothing to help you manage your workload or be more productive. In fact, in many cases, it only slows you down.
Instead, to manage your workload, you should rely on tried and true methods to increase productivity in the workplace.
What Is Workload Management?
In essence, workload management is less about managing the work itself and more about managing the people doing the work.
Workload management is the process of strategically distributing work among your team to ensure the highest possible productivity levels. If done right, workload management can help your employees deliver much better results, improve their workplace confidence, and even help your team enjoy their job more!
Without proper workload prioritization, employees can easily feel either underworked or overwhelmed. Gifted workers who are not assigned tasks matching their unique skill sets will feel frustrated by the slow pace of the project and annoyed with their coworkers for seeming to wrestle with tasks they could accomplish quickly and efficiently. Workers who are assigned tasks that are too complex or outside their wheelhouse will sink under the pressure and quickly feel defeated.
Proper workload management always includes:
- Seeing the big picture
- Breaking a large project into smaller, manageable pieces
- Arranging those pieces into a logical order
- Identifying specific tasks and matching them with suitably skilled team members
- Assigning reasonable deadlines
- Offering assistance
- Allocating resources as needed
- Staying available for support and troubleshooting
Good workload prioritization goes a long way toward keeping team members from feeling overwhelmed and turning to the doubtful aid of “multitasking.”
Why Is Multitasking Not Efficient?
As we mentioned in the introduction, multitasking does not really help you be more productive. Researchers have proven that instead of increasing your capacity to get things done, multitasking only splits your focus and slows you down.
They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. (Forbes)
Multitasking doesn’t work because our brains can really only focus on one task at a time. If we’re honest, our personal experiences bear this out. When we’re engrossed in what we’re doing, everything else in the room fades away. We stop noticing ambient noises, tune out conversations happening around us, and even ignore people addressing us directly by name. This doesn’t happen because there’s something wrong with our hearing; it happens because our brains do not multitask.
Multitasking doesn’t work. Therefore, instead of organizing your workload around an attempt to do many things at once, you should instead commit to practicing good time management in the workplace — handling one problem at a time and giving each task the attention it deserves.
If you manage a team, remember that your team members require the same structure. Rather than loading tasks upon them with the expectation that they “multitask,” be sure to lead by example, setting up the project assignments in a way that demonstrates good workload management as outlined in the section above.
5 Tips to Be Productive Without Multitasking
If we cannot rely on “multitasking” to get things done, how can we manage our workload effectively and help others learn to do the same? Putting one (or all!) of the following tips into practice would be a good start.
Tip 1: Do the hard things first.
It’s human nature to procrastinate, and we tend to put off tasks we’re dreading even longer than normal. Highly successful people, however, tend to do the “painful things” first, capitalizing on this truth: “Behavioral scientists have discovered that one of the most effective ways to create an enjoyable experience is to stack the painful parts of the experience early in the process.”
By taking care of our hardest tasks early in the day, we not only tackle them when we’re typically the most alert and energized but we’re also setting up our entire shift to be more enjoyable, with nothing to dread hanging over us.
Tip 2: Keep “office hours” for your email.
In many ways, trying to keep up with email is its own part-time job. Depending on the nature of your responsibilities, you may not have the luxury of closing your inbox and turning off your email alerts completely; however, you can increase productivity at work by having specific times set aside for responding to emails and keeping the inbox closed for the bulk of the day.
If you work with your inbox open, you’re dealing with constant distractions. Every new alert splits your focus. Even if you don’t stop what you’re doing to respond at the moment, part of your mental energy is now seeking to divert itself toward responding; and if the email signals something you’d consider a higher priority level than what you’re working on, you’ll constantly be dropping your current task to juggle other issues. This scenario is a perfect illustration of why multitasking doesn’t work.
Instead of working with your inbox always open, learn to keep “office hours” with your email. The number of times you check your inbox and the length of time you spend responding to messages will vary; however, many people organize their days around a first look when they arrive at their desks in the morning, a mid-day check to see if any issues require attention, and a final visit before they leave for the day. All blocks of time between these check-ins can be fully devoted to managing their workload.
Tip 3: Set high/low work intervals.
As almost any long-distance runner will attest, one of the best ways to increase strength and improve their running speeds is to vary the levels of intensity throughout long runs. By following the 80/20 principle, even elite runners spend 80% of their training runs at low intensity, just putting in the miles. Then, 20% of the time, they’ll max out their efforts, pushing themselves to run as fast as they can. After an intense burst, they’ll fall back into “marathon pace,” using the lower intensity period to recover. Then the cycle repeats. Throughout their runs, runners will toggle back and forth on a set schedule, balancing low and high intensity until they reach the end.
When we set up our workdays according to low/high intervals, we’re able to accomplish a great deal of work through both “maximum energy” bursts and a low, slow marathon pace. Toggling back and forth between periods of focus and intensity allows us to accomplish a great deal without burning out.
Tip 4: Treat yourself.
Setting up benchmarks with rewards attached to them gives us extra motivation to hit our targets. The rewards don’t need to be fancy; they need not even be tangible! Knowing you have a reward coming when you finish the task at hand gives a bit of extra motivation and adds cheer to your day by giving you something to look forward to (other than the satisfaction and pride of a job well done, of course).
If you’re a team leader or project manager, remember that rewards will work for your team members as well. Knowing your team well enough to reward them in specific, personal ways will take this tip to the next level.
Tip 5: Work the Ivy Lee Method.
This method has been around since the turn of the 20th century, and it has yet to be outdone. Named for the businessman and consultant who first put it into practice, it’s helped countless successful executives (including Charles Schwab).
It can help you, too!
The Ivy Lee Method includes these five steps:
- At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
This super-simple technique streamlines your daily tasks, removes friction from the start of each new workday, and — best of all — forces you to focus on one single task at a time.
We Can Help
Struggling with workload management issues? Thinking of looking for new employment opportunities and leveling up in your career?
Check out Lensa now and learn about new and exciting job opportunities in your field!