5 projects on the go.
In your inbox: an email requesting action on each project. Every email contains one of the following:
and they all contain: “!!!!”
You know that most of the urgency is exaggerated. The new proposed schedule isn’t literally a matter of life and death. No staff are literally perched atop the Golden Gate bridge, ready to jump if the new staff jackets aren’t approved by 5pm. All of the projects are important. The people leading the projects know you’re busy, so they unconsciously add emotional language so you’ll take theirs seriously.
Even worse, you don’t have all the information required to make a decision on any of them. You could respond to every one with questions–but that will result in ten more emails. You’ll keep jumping back and forth between them, trying to keep the details of each project straight in your mind.
Worst of all, jumping from project to project increases your stress level. As feel your temperature rising, you’re keenly aware that your ability to make objective decisions is impaired. And if it’s 7pm on a Friday, you take that level-9 stress home with you…
…and then your kid asks you to play Legos, and your brain is in fight-or-flight status, and you respond harshly. Your amygdala, your hormones, your heart rate are all still in “take-charge-during-an-emergency” mode. Your kid is in “Daddy’s home!” mode. And you can’t flip the switch.
You’re distracted, you’re overwhelmed, and you’re carrying the burden of guilt. Your work has got you surrounded. You’re under siege. Here’s how to break it.
- First, tackle only 1-2 projects per quarter.
In his book, “Anything You Want”, Derek Sivers writes: “You can do anything, but you can’t do it all at the same time.”
Use a “bubble list” to prioritize which projects take priority this quarter. Don’t try to do both projects at once: finish the first before starting on the second. Put everything else on hold–you’ll get there.
- Use the attached project proposal form to clarify action steps; determine responsibilities; and evaluate what constitutes “done”. This is called a Gantt chart, and you can download a free sample here:Grantt Chart- Tinker
You can use software like Asana to make this even simpler, but you don’t have to get fancier than an Excel spreadsheet.
This is my Gantt chart for starting IgniteGym in 2010. Missing are dates for completion of each step.
- Eliminate emotional language from project updates and help requests.
Earlier, I said that team members will often unconsciously add emotional language like “urgent” and “emergency” to their emails. They know you’re busy, and want to make sure you’re giving their project your attention. What they don’t know is that their project is valuable enough to warrant careful thought. They’re also not balancing five other equally important decisions with interdependencies between them. They probably have no idea what’s really on your plate!
Instead of team members writing emails, sending texts, or hoping you’ll notice updates to their Google Sheets, give them a template for pitching their project. This puts all of the information in one place. When you’re ready to make a decision, you won’t have to sort through email threads and documents to find the points you need.
Download a free Project Action Sheet here:PROJECT ACTION SHEET
Note that the spaces for answers are outlined, and the boxes are deliberately kept small. Simplicity is the most important part of tracking and planning.
When the project is approved, the project leader should fill out the Gantt Sheet with timelines and responsibilities.
- Turn off your phone. You teach people how to treat you. If you respond to every text message or email immediately, or during family time, or on the weekends…that’s when they’ll text or email you.
No one thinks they’re acting selfishly. But if they know you’re online at 4am, and you’re not getting many texts at that time, and they can get in front of you right away…that’s when they’ll text. It happens to me almost every day.
Prove–to them, and to yourself–that work isn’t actually an emergency. Stay off your phone until Monday.
- Put yourself in their shoes, and ask them to put themselves in yours.
They’re pitching one big, exciting idea. They can’t think of anything else! Be grateful to have such an invested, caring team.
They also don’t know about your other big projects. And they don’t need to know the details; they don’t need to hear you complain. Just let them know that their project is important enough to warrant careful consideration instead of a fast action.
Working with powerful people means prioritizing HUGE ideas. As your business grows, you’ll hear fewer bad ideas, but you can easily be overwhelmed with great ones. In many ways, that’s even more stressful, because every idea requires more time, thought and energy.