Are your work habits helping or hurting you??

By Chris Coward, MSW, PCC

I’ve had a lot of coaching clients recently report feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty prioritizing projects.  The volume of work for most leaders is enormous and the pressure to get it all done can feel crushing.  Time management training is often ineffective especially when you are looking to have your habits sustain you ongoingly.  So what do you do??  Below are 4 tips to improve your work habits that will make you more effective, more productive and get you out of overwhelm.

  1. Plan your day the night before – One of the biggest issues I see that gets in the way of leaders getting their important work done is not knowing each day when the work is going to get done. Instead, it goes something like this – you check email and texts first thing in the morning and boom… you are reacting to everyone else’s requests of you before you even get to the office!  One way this can be avoided is by knowing when you are going to work on what’s important and holding that time sacred.  I once coached a woman who said she couldn’t meet until after 11 AM because she does her most important (and best quality) work in the mornings and then has her meetings in the afternoon.  She fortunately was in charge of her schedule and that may be less true for you, but you get the idea.  

A corollary to planning your day the night before is to use Sunday to plan your upcoming week.  This leads to the next tip.

  1. Create blocks of time – This is one of the biggest habits you can create to help you get more done. Personally, I like 2-hour blocks but you can experiment with what works for you.  If you don’t have blocks of time carved out in your planner, you will be in reactive mode, taking care of all the other things on your long to do list and responding to everyone else’s requests of you.  If you have trouble focusing during your block of time consider trying the Pomodoro Technique.  This is done by setting a timer for 20 minutes, focusing on the task at hand without interruption – that means email notifications off, social media pings turned off and setting yourself up for no interruptions.  Once the timer goes off you take a 5 min break and then do your next chunk of 20 min.  I’ve used this method myself and have found that sometimes I’ve allotted too much focused time and after four to five 20 minute chunks I’ve completed what I wanted to get done.  And there are other times when I over-estimated how long the project would take.
  1. Create boundaries – This can be challenging for many leaders who want to be seen as always available to their team and their boss. And, sometimes the conversation necessary to state what you need from your boss, colleagues and team can feel daunting or uncomfortable.  I’ve coached one client who wanted to have this type of conversation with her supervisor but was apprehensive because she thought he would think she was pushing back on taking new work assignments.  After role- playing what the conversation could look like she had the discussion and it went really well.  It turned out her supervisor wasn’t fully aware of her workload and the pressure on her.  He was receptive to her ideas about modifying the work flow and delegating some pieces of it.
  1. Practice self-careThis tip could be a whole other blog post in itself! Your ability to be at your peak at work is directly related to your own self care.  What do I mean by self care?  This means your habits around nutrition, sleep, exercise, recreation and stress management.  From my own experience, if I burn the midnight oil working on something, I’m less likely to get up at 5:30AM for a 6:00AM exercise class.  If my diet in a given week consists of a lot of low quality carbs, I’m going to be more tired (after the initial sugar rush) and less focused.  If I don’t manage my stress and don’t get a chance to have fun, I feel resentful about the work I have to do.  I could share more examples, but I invite you to think about self care in your own life.  On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your level of satisfaction in the areas of nutrition, sleep, exercise, recreation and stress management?  How would your work life be improved if you moved the needle even 1 point in an area that’s low for you? 



My challenge to you if you are feeling overwhelmed and having trouble prioritizing your workload, is to practice these strategies and see what results you get.  I would love to hear your results – please share them below!  Or, schedule time for a consult for us to discuss them.