How to Avoid Task Overwhelm

How to avoid task overwhelm

Task overwhelm is the second biggest problem reported by new finance leaders. In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environments, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks and responsibilities we have to juggle. However, by implementing some key strategies and developing good habits, you can avoid task overwhelm and regain control of your workload.

This newsletter will explore practical ways to manage your tasks and responsibilities, surround yourself with the right people, and develop good habits that promote productivity and well-being.

Clarify Your Responsibilities

One of the first steps in avoiding task overwhelm is to clarify your responsibilities. This involves understanding the various roles you need to take on within your organisation. For finance leaders, the role often expands to cover functions that don’t have their own c-suite representative. This may include tasks such as estate and facilities management, procurement, IT, and legal responsibilities. Clearly defining these roles allows you to prioritise and allocate your time and resources accordingly.

Clarifying your responsibilities starts right at the beginning of your time in the role. It’s essential to clarify your mandate as part of your induction process. This means understanding your objectives, goals, and expectations within the organisation. You may have covered this during recruitment, but now is the time to get to specifics.

Take the time to confirm your mandate again when you share your blueprint for finance. By aligning your responsibilities with your organisation’s objectives, you can ensure that your efforts are focused on achieving meaningful outcomes.

The main purpose of sharing your blueprint with the leadership team is to ensure you have the necessary resources to support you in your role. This includes having an agreed budget that allows you to carry out your responsibilities effectively. It also involves having the right people and systems in place. Building a blueprint for finance, determining the size of your finance team, and recognising the importance of data are crucial aspects of ensuring you have the resources needed to succeed.

The GrowCFO report on the size of a finance team will help you to determine how a finance team for your type and size of organisation should be structured.

Surround Yourself with the Right People

Leaders need help to accomplish everything. Surrounding yourself with the right people is essential for avoiding task overwhelm. Firstly, having a competent and capable second-in-command (No. 2) can significantly alleviate the burden of responsibilities. Ensure that your No. 2’s skills complement your own. A strong No. 2 can provide valuable support and share the workload, enabling you to focus on higher-level tasks.

Furthermore, develop a team with diverse skills within your finance department. Having individuals skilled in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) can help you immensely in providing the insights that you need to share with the rest of the leadership team.

Surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial for personal and professional growth and avoiding task overwhelm. Here’s why it’s important and how to go about it:

  1. Complementary skills and expertise: When building a team or professional network, seek individuals with complementary skills and expertise. Look for people who excel in areas where you may have weaknesses. This way, you can leverage their strengths to fill the gaps in your skill set. For example, if you’re a finance leader with expertise in financial planning and analysis, consider surrounding yourself with individuals who excel in areas such as accounting, risk management, or strategic financial management.
  2. Shared vision and values: Surrounding yourself with people who share your vision, values, and work ethic is essential. When your team members or colleagues have a shared understanding of goals and values, it becomes easier to collaborate, make decisions, and work towards common objectives. Seek individuals who align with your professional values and can contribute positively to the work environment.
  3. Support and collaboration: Surrounding yourself with the right people means having a network of individuals who provide support and foster collaboration. Look for team members or colleagues who are willing to share knowledge, provide feedback, and collaborate on projects. Building a supportive network helps create a positive work environment and promotes personal and professional growth.
  4. Trust and reliability: Trust is a fundamental aspect of any successful working relationship. Surround yourself with people you can trust and rely on. This includes individuals who demonstrate reliability, accountability, and a strong work ethic. When you have a team of trustworthy individuals, you can delegate tasks with confidence, knowing they will be handled effectively and efficiently.
  5. Diverse perspectives: Seek out individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Diversity brings fresh ideas, creativity, and innovation to the table. Surrounding yourself with people who think differently can help you challenge assumptions, broaden your horizons, and arrive at better solutions. Embrace diversity and create an inclusive environment that values different viewpoints.
  6. Mentors and role models: Surrounding yourself with mentors and role models can provide invaluable guidance and support in your professional journey. Seek out individuals who have achieved success in areas you aspire to excel in. Learn from their experiences, seek their advice, and leverage their expertise to accelerate your own growth. Mentors and role models can provide valuable insights, help you navigate challenges, and inspire you to reach new heights.
  7. Continuous learning and development: Surrounding yourself with people who are committed to continuous learning and development can be highly beneficial. Engage with individuals who are curious, open to new ideas, and actively seek opportunities for growth. Collaborating with lifelong learners can inspire you to expand your knowledge, acquire new skills, and stay ahead in your field.

To surround yourself with the right people, consider networking within your organisation, attending industry events, joining professional associations, and seeking mentorship opportunities. Actively build relationships with individuals who align with the qualities and attributes you value.

Remember, surrounding yourself with the right people is not only about finding individuals who can help you achieve your goals, but also about creating a supportive and collaborative environment where everyone can thrive and contribute to collective success.

Develop Good Habits

In addition to clarifying your responsibilities and surrounding yourself with the right people, developing good habits is crucial for managing tasks and avoiding overwhelm. Here are some key habits to consider:

  1. Take time for yourself: It’s important to prioritize self-care and well-being. Set aside time for activities that recharge and rejuvenate you, such as exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Taking care of your own needs will help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and prevent burnout.
  2. Plan on Fridays: Use Fridays to plan and organize your tasks for the following week. Review your priorities, deadlines, and upcoming meetings. By starting the week with a clear plan, you can hit the ground running and reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Use the Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that involves breaking work into intervals, typically 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks. This technique can help improve focus and productivity by working in short bursts and taking regular breaks. Using this technique will help you get the best out of the time available to you. If you have a busy diary then you might need to reduce the time interval to 15 minutes to make the best use of gaps in your schedule.
  4. Focus on the 80/20 rule: Apply the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, which states that roughly 80% of outcomes come from 20% of efforts. Identify the tasks that fall within that crucial 20% and prioritize them accordingly. These tasks typically yield the highest impact and contribute the most to your goals.
  5. Apply the Eisenhower Matrix: The Eisenhower Matrix is a popular tool for task prioritization. It categorizes tasks into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance:Urgent and important: These tasks should be your top priority and require immediate attention.Important but not urgent: These tasks should be scheduled and given dedicated time and attention.Urgent but not important: Consider delegating or finding ways to minimize time spent on these tasks, if possible.Not urgent and not important: These tasks can be eliminated or postponed, as they have low priority and little impact on your goals.

Conduct a Time Audit

Lastly, consider conducting a time audit to identify non-value-adding tasks and areas where you can make improvements. Evaluate your daily activities and determine which tasks can be eliminated, delegated, or streamlined. By eliminating or reducing low-value tasks and reworking processes to eliminate their causes, you can free up valuable time and energy for more important responsibilities.

Here are some practical ways to conduct a time audit:

  1. Track your activities: Start by tracking your activities for a defined period, such as a week or two. Use a time-tracking tool or create a spreadsheet to record the tasks and activities you engage in throughout the day. Be diligent and accurate in tracking your time, noting both work-related and personal activities.
  2. Categorize your activities: After tracking your activities, categorize them into different groups or categories. For example, you can have categories like meetings, emails, administrative tasks, project work, personal time, etc. This step will help you gain a clear overview of how you allocate your time and identify patterns or areas that require attention.
  3. Analyze time spent: Once you have categorized your activities, analyze the time spent in each category. Look for patterns and trends. Identify activities that consume a significant amount of time but provide little value or contribute to your goals. Also, pay attention to activities that consistently get delayed or take longer than expected.
  4. Evaluate value-addition: Assess the value-addition of each activity. Determine which activities directly contribute to your goals, priorities, and overall productivity. Focus on identifying high-value tasks that align with your responsibilities and objectives.
  5. Identify non-value-adding tasks: Identify tasks or activities that do not provide significant value or could be eliminated or reduced. These could include excessive time spent on unproductive meetings, excessive email checking, low-priority tasks, or time-consuming but non-essential activities.
  6. Delegate or automate: Look for tasks that can be delegated to others. Determine if there are team members or colleagues who can handle certain responsibilities, thereby freeing up your time for more strategic or high-priority work. Additionally, explore automation tools or technologies that can streamline repetitive or time-consuming tasks.
  7. Create a new time allocation plan: Based on your analysis and identification of non-value-adding tasks, create a new time allocation plan. Allocate more time to high-value activities and reduce or eliminate low-value or non-essential tasks. Prioritize tasks that directly contribute to your goals and make a significant impact on your work.
  8. Establish boundaries and time management techniques: Implement effective time management techniques to optimize your productivity. This can include setting boundaries, such as specific time slots for checking emails or attending meetings, and using techniques like time blocking or the Pomodoro Technique to structure and manage your time more efficiently.
  9. Regularly review and adjust: Conducting a time audit should not be a one-time activity. It’s important to regularly review your time allocation, assess your progress, and make adjustments as needed. Keep track of your time usage and periodically evaluate whether you’re maintaining the right balance and effectively allocating your time to the most valuable activities.

By conducting a thorough time audit and making conscious adjustments based on the findings, you can optimize your time management, increase productivity, and reduce task overwhelm.

Additional Materials

Several resources can provide valuable insights and guidance on managing tasks and responsibilities effectively. Some of my own personal favourites include:

  • “168 Hours” by Laura Vanderkam: This book explores strategies for better time management and maximizing productivity within the 168 hours we all have each week.
  • “Tranquility by Tuesday” by Laura Vanderkam: In this book, Vanderkam offers practical advice for finding balance and creating a more peaceful and fulfilling life.
  • “Routine Machine” by John Lamerton: Lamerton’s book delves into the power of routines and habits in achieving success and reducing overwhelm.
  • “Atomic Habits” by James Clear: Clear provides actionable techniques for developing good habits and breaking bad ones, offering a roadmap for personal and professional growth.
  • “How to save an hour a day” by Michael Heppell: Heppell provides a diverse set of tactics you can use to save time and make yourself more effective. There’s something for everybody in here.

I spoke to Laura Vanderkam on the GrowCFO Show when she was launching “Tranquility by Tuesday”, and she provided excellent advice.

John Lamerton has been a guest on The Next 100 Days Podcast several times. Here’s the link to the episode about Routine Machine

In conclusion, avoiding task overwhelm is possible by implementing effective strategies and developing good habits. Clarify your responsibilities, surround yourself with the right people, and make self-care a priority. By doing so, you can regain control of your workload, increase productivity, and achieve a healthier work-life balance.