What to do when many important tasks are raining on you from different and equally important managers?
Caught in the middle
Obviously, dynamics within a team may vary. Employees can have friendly and collaborative relationships with their managers if the company culture allows it. Sadly, the exact opposite is also possible.
Employees really don’t want to give the impression of being uncooperative slackers. Sometimes, they may feel the pressure to perform and impress the boss, especially in fast-growing and competitive start-ups, or in the corporate environment.
And in the works case scenarios, they might outright fear retaliation from their superiors.
Multi-manager conflict – when bosses from different departments give you contrasting instructions on what you have to do – is one of the most frustrating things that can happen to an employee.
How to manage tasks with different priorities
First of all: a good manager should be telling you the priority of the task.
That being said, if you’re left to self-manage your daily work, here’s how to prioritize and juggle different assignments:
Propose your own deadlines;
Batch what you can together;
Block time for the top priorities;
Negotiate for delegation.
#1 Evaluate the urgency
You can establish the urgency of the task yourself by asking some questions:
Find out if there is already a deadline for the project;
Check what is the state of the project (on track, just starting, out of budget and so on);
Ask in detail what the assignment requires so that you can evaluate how much time it will take you to get it done.
By asking these questions to your manager you should have enough information to decide.
The Eisenhower Matrix often comes up when talking about productivity and priorities – we mentioned it several times when talking about how to prioritize a to-do list.
#2 Propose your own deadlines
When you have decided which task goes first, you can tell your managers when you think you can get it done.
Make sure to offer realistic deadlines. Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to a planning fallacy that lets us always underestimate how much time it will get to complete a certain work.
So, just to be safe, always add some extra time to the estimate you propose.
A good way to evaluate how much time it will take to complete that task is to check in your time tracking tool and see the history of how much time you have tracked for a similar task. This will help you base your estimate on data and your past work history:
When you’re dealing with multiple small tasks coming from different managers, you can optimize the time by batching the most similar tasks together and getting them done at once.
For example: if you have to send documents and follow up with clients via email, while you’re there in the inbox you can get rid of all email-related activities. Or if you have to make several calls, do them one after the other so that you can forget about them later.
#4 Block time on your schedule
Time blocking is an effective way of managing your schedule, especially when dealing with multiple tasks. By blocking the time you need (as you estimated in #2) for each important task, you’ll be able to organize your day and get them all done.
Having assigned chunks of your time for each task will help stick to your deadlines and finish everything on time.
Also, don’t forget to save some time on your schedule for other tasks, the ones that are part of your usual routine, to make sure that the big assignments won’t suck up all your time.
#5 Negotiate to relieve a part of the burden
No, this paragraph does not endorse passing the buck to colleagues.
But there may be times when you have too much on your plate. Loading your schedule will ruin any chance of completing the tasks you have been assigned, or will force you to rush sloppy work.
This is why it’s OK to ask, from time to time, if you can delegate some of the tasks to other colleagues.
Ask if someone else can take on at least the low-priority ones, so that you can dedicate all your attention to the top priorities. Also, make sure to point out if there is someone else on the team who’s more experienced in that particular field, proving to the manager that they can get done more effectively.
If a colleague does take on your assignment, please do not forget to return the favor.
Collaboration within a team must be cherished and cultivated by everyone.
At some point, you’ll have to say No
Here it comes – the moment when you have no way of taking on the task to have been assigned to.
No, it won’t be funny, because regardless of your relationships at work, it’s always stressful to say no to your boss.
If you do it, make sure to clearly and sincerely explain why you’re overwhelmed.
Never stop at a simple “no”, but always propose an alternative. For example, you may be able to complete part of the task, or you may simply need a longer deadline. One solution would definitely be delegating the task to someone else as we already explained.
If you show your boss the right way to achieve the same end result, you’ll establish your expertise within the team. You’ll help the business work better – all while keeping your sanity.