Those of you who know me personally know that I love to joke about how I have four jobs. Now let me be clear, I have a single employer, receive a single paycheck, and supposedly work a 40 hour week. Nonetheless, I have found myself with four bosses, at various locations, assigning me a multitude of different tasks. So how did I get here? And more importantly, how do I manage?
How I Got Here
First things first, how did I find myself in this predicament? Well, back in February 2015 I transitioned to a new company. That company put me on a Government contract. At this one location, I report to a direct manger, and have a defined scope of work. Done. Except, not exactly.
You see, my company did something many employees only wish for: they recognized good work. It was then that my boss’ boss asked for some help working on corporate proposals. Naturally, I took advantage of the opportunity for exposure and volunteered to help out. The thing is, Government contractors rely on proposals to get more work. Therefore, there is always a proposal to work on. Now, the proposal manager has my name and pulls me in when needed. Second boss. Second scope of work.
The trouble with Government contracts, long-term or short, is that they all end. The worse trouble is that even when they do, it’s a grey area of sorts. It can take months or even years to determine what company is going to take over a contract. Meanwhile, workers are stuck in limbo coming to their job everyday hoping it’s not their last. When it was announced the contract I am on is going to end, my company and I worked out a transition plan. They decided to move me to another Government contract and keep me on the first until it reached its close. Count that as a second location, third boss, and third scope of work. Naturally, this was supposed to be temporary. But as I mentioned, this process can take months or even years. I’m still on the hook for the first contract until further notice.
If this wasn’t hectic enough, somewhere up corporate’s chain of command, my name was thrown around. Before I knew it, I was tapped to help out with another corporate project. Not wanting to disappoint the higher-ups, and again taking advantage of the opportunity for exposure, I said yes. Fourth boss. Fourth scope of work. Stressed out Greta.
How I Manage
So, if you actually took the time to read the narrative above, you get a feel for how frantic and confusing spreading yourself this thin can be. And, how easy it is to get there. If you’re like me and backed yourself into a corner of too much work for too many people, there is a way to manage it all without feeling overwhelmed.
1. Take a Deep Breath
Yes, I know, corny Greta speech time. But it’s true. The first step in handling a situation like this is taking a step back and keeping yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Remind yourself that things will get done. You were given this level of responsibility because you can handle it. Don’t let yourself believe anything different.
2. Breakout Tasks
Now it’s your turn to do what I did above. Take stock of where you are. Label your managers, locations, scopes of work, and tasks. Break it all down into easily-digestible pieces. Doing this allows you to focus in on each task rather than visualizing them as a whole pile of work. And now, you’re set up to start organizing how you’ll tackle it all.
Prioritizing your tasks can be approached from multiple angles. Maybe one task has a harsher deadline. Maybe you’re more concerned with impressing one boss over another. Maybe you enjoy a certain scope of work the most. Any way you do it, grab all of your tasks and put them in order.
4. Be Realistic
This is the hard part. As much as you want to be a hero and carry the full load, sometimes, it’s just not possible. Look at your priority list and your calendar. If you have metrics to help you, all the better. Figure out what is feasible for you to get done. Then, make a list of the things that no matter how you slice it, you can’t get through.
If you do nothing else in this entire list, do this one. Communicate to your managers where you’re at, what you’re feeling, and what you’re capable of. You got to where you are because you’re good at what you do. Congrats. Keep a positive rapport with everyone by talking with them. Who knows? That one priority task might not be so high up the list after all. There might be someone to help you cross something off your list. You don’t know until you talk it out.
About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit her bio page.