It’s generally a bad sign when the seat belt warning light for the passenger seat comes on, but you are the only one in the car. You’ve got too much weight on that seat, and the car thinks it’s a person who needs to fasten their seat belt.
This has happened for me a few times lately. It’s when I have thrown my briefcase and stacks of work for the weekend or the evenings on the seat. Or I’m out of my office at hospital meetings for several days in a row and need various files with me. The passenger seat becomes my file cabinet until I’m back in my office.
If I’ve been out of town to visit family or on business, it gets even harder to manage the volume.
People say they don’t know how I do it — how I keep on top of everything. I respond, typically, “I don’t do it that well.” I’m my own worst critic. But I try my best.
So how do you survive and be your best at times like this?
Triage skills – Review your email inbox and make sure that the time sensitive ones are answered. Look for emails from your direct reports, boss, peers and customers to handle. Keep things moving and be responsive to requests.
Prioritization skills – We all make A and B lists. And even C lists, though we know we probably won’t get to those tasks. Be clear on your most important strategic priorities and get all the A tasks done in a timely manner.
Switching gears when needed – You have to adjust your schedule when a major operational issue comes up requiring your attention and deep involvement. Make sure the issue is addressed, and when things are back on track, get out of the details and let your staff handle it.
Selective reading – With the volume of reports and information that comes via email, you have to be deliberate and intentional about what you will actually have time to read in depth vs skim over or not read at all.
Preparation for meetings – We all want to make meetings as focused and efficient as possible. Make time to do the prep work and advance reading. And if you’re the meeting organizer, you owe it to others to get materials out in time for people to prepare.
Delegation – I have a leadership team I trust to represent me and to effectively handle the things that they own. No hand-holding at this level. They need to know when to escalate, and I have to be available when they do.
Support staff – Last but not least, excellent support staff is critical. They should be able to anticipate your needs, handle all the messy details, manage your calendar, and work alongside you as a trusted partner. They are critical to a leader’s success.
So next time you think you can’t manage it all, strap on your seat belt. Yes, you are in the fast lane, and you need to figure out how to make it work.