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When Planners Aren’t Enough: Seven Workload Management Tips for Your Office

As we’ve noted before, employees are stressed. According to the American Psychology Association, 39% of North American workers say that their workload is the main cause of their workplace stress.1 Managers or HR professionals may not be able to reduce the number of tasks employees have, but they can offer strategies that help reduce the stress that often comes with balancing multiple projects.

1. Introduce Meditation-Based Programs

Have you ever looked at your to-do list in the morning and felt overwhelmed before your work day had even begun? This kind of feeling makes it difficult to focus and get work done, which in turn creates more stress. You end up cross-eyed and overwhelmed, and your productivity is shot.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that yoga- or mindfulness-based programs can help stop this madness.2 Employees found their work-related stress went down regardless of whether the programs were hosted in the office or online. Once people have the tools needed to relax and clear their minds, they can return to work ready to clear those to-do lists.

2. Down with Multi-Tasking!

Multi-tasking is a scam! There, I said it. I’d say it again if I had to.

Multi-tasking worsens stress by slowing productivity and increasing mental strain,3 and I’m not the only one who’s turned against the professional equivalent of rubbing your head and patting your stomach.4 More workers are starting to find more effective strategies, like sorting to-do lists by importance and time to complete. Others put their phones away until they’ve finished their current task.

You can be part of the solution. Avoid the word multi-tasker in job descriptions, and encourage your employees to focus on one task at a time. You can even let people in on a secret: most email systems have a function that lets you send automatic messages when you turn off notifications. If people put URGENT in the subject line, your computer will let you know you’ve received a high-priority message.5

3. Embrace the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule started as a mathematical formula created by economist Vilfredo Pareto.6 In the 1940s, Dr. Joseph M. Juran applied the formula to quality studies when he noticed that 20% of the defects cause 80% of problems in most products. Finally, managers adapted the rule when they noticed that 20% of work takes 80% of efforts and time. Other examples include 80% of complaints coming from 20% of customers and, for most companies, 20% of investors providing 80% of the funding.

Suggest this experiment to your employees: at the end of every day for a week, write down all your work tasks, completed and otherwise. At the end of the week, look at the list to see what has produced results. Chances are, about 20% of your tasks produce 80% of important outcomes. See what assignments you can eliminate.

4. OHIO: More than the Birthplace of Aviation

OHIO stands for Only Handle It Once. While any grammar nerd could tell you that the acronym should be Handle It Only Once, HIOO just doesn’t have the same ring. But no matter how the name sounds, the idea can reduce stress and save time.

When people constantly read and respond to emails, they lose precious time and focus needed to complete important projects. With the OHIO method, you read the subject line of an email as soon as you receive it and then decide if you can do anything about it right now. If not, wait to read it when you have time to address the issue. If you can open the email, and the email requires a response, you reply as soon as you’re done reading it. That way, you reduce email buildup while not pulling yourself in a million directions.7

5. Cut Down on Meetings

Meetings can be productivity killers, taking time away from workers that they could use to finish their tasks. By encouraging managers to cut down on unnecessary meetings, you can save everyone not only time but also mental energy. Planning and sticking to meeting agendas can also save time in necessary meetings.

6. Improve To-Do Lists

“Have you made a to-do list?” might be the most annoying advice on workload management ever given, but that doesn’t take away from the importance of a good to-do list. Ask your people what accessories would help them manage their workload: colored sticky notes, highlighters, even stickers. Look into online planning software if employees think they would get more out of that than a paper list.

7. Encourage Department Communication Regarding Workload

If several people on a single team are struggling with their workload, make sure their manager is delegating effectively. Setting clear expectations is essential to keeping employees from overdoing or, on the other side of the scale, slacking. Make sure that managers check in with their employees periodically too.

If your people feel overwhelmed with a heavy workload, you have the tools to help them organize and overcome.

Have any tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

References:

1. American Psychological Association. “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation.” Stress in America Survey, 2 (2017).

2. Wolever, Ruth Q., Kyra J. Bobinet, Kelley McCabe, Elizabeth R. Mackenzie, Erin Fekete, Catherine A. Kusnick, and Michael Baime. 2012. “Effective and Viable Mind-Body Stress Reduction in the Workplace: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 17, no. 2: 246 (2012).

3. Zaid Dahhaj, “The Lie of Multitasking,” Medium, April 22, 2018, https://medium.com/@zaiderrr/the-lie-of-multitasking-bd70654409fd.

4. William R. Klemm, “The Perils of Multitasking,” Psychology Today, August 26, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/memory-medic/201608/the-perils-multitasking.

5. Shani Harmon and Renee Cullinan, “Why We Are Addicted to Multitasking and Five Ways to Break the Habit,” Forbes, November 3, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/harmoncullinan/2016/11/03/why-we-are-addicted-to-multitasking-and-5-ways-to-break-the-habit/#76a2b4637f2d.

6. F. John Reh, “Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule,” Balance Careers, October 3, 2018, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/pareto-s-principle-the-80-20-rule-2275148.

7. Marcey Rader, “O.H.I.O. Your Email to Shrink Your Inbox,” Money Inc, October 2018, https://moneyinc.com/ohio-your-email-to-shrink-your-inbox/.

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