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How to Find the Time to Get Everything Done



When I ask folks what their biggest challenge is as a supervisor, the number one answer is almost always time. Or rather I should say not enough time. This issue comes up repeatedly in surveys, coaching, and in the conversations we had with folks this week at ACPA. So today, I’m going to answer the question, “How do I get all of the things I need to get done done, when I don’t have enough time?” If you’ve been wrestling with this topic, you’re going to want to keep reading.  


In a recent survey, I asked folks what their biggest challenge is. As I mentioned earlier, most people mentioned time. But I want to break that down a bit by mentioning exactly what people wrote…


·        Time. I’m currently enrolled in a Doctoral program and working full-time.

·        Too many things I want and need to do in a given month, week, day, etc.

·        Not enough time to do all the things. I have ideas to make the experience better as a supervisor, but due to other issues that take time, I can’t execute those.

·        Time with those I supervise competing against higher level projects.

·        Workforce reductions which result in my plate being even more full.

 

These are just a few of the things we hear from supervisors regarding too much to do and not enough time. You can see by those examples, some of it is related to staffing issues, unrealistic workloads, supervising issues, and balancing big picture initiatives with daily tasks. But in a nutshell, people are running themselves ragged without ever reaching the finish line. There’s always this looming pile of work left to do, no matter how much you accomplish in a day.

 

Now this is a complicated issue. I don’t want to oversimplify it, but I’m going to give you an important key to managing this right now. Get out a piece of paper and write this down…

 

IT IS SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO GET ALL OF THIS DONE.

 

Okay, did you get that? How did it feel to write or say? How does it feel to just be honest about the situation? Is it a relief? Does it make you feel even more stressed? Do you feel empowered?

 

Now, my guess is that isn’t what you thought I was going to say. I mean, the title of this article is, “How to Find the Time to Get Everything Done.” But here’s the thing, thinking that way makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you; that you’re the problem. But you’re not the problem. If you’re reading this, you’re not a slacker or someone who just doesn’t care about their work. You want to do a good job. You want to serve your team and your students. The problem is you’re being asked to do too much with too few resources. Period.

I don’t want to go on a tangent about the state of Higher Education today, but we have lots of terrible systems that are driven by folks who make poor decisions, often because of stress. And if you’ve any of my past articles about the impact of stress, you know it means that the folks who made or are making decisions are not doing their best work. There are lots of reasons for this stress – money, politics, ego, and even ignorance. But in the end, we have a system that’s desperate to increase numbers in enrollment, retention, and endowments, all while slashing budgets. It’s become a quagmire of doing without consideration for actual outcomes or the impact it’s having on you and your team.

All that being said, you’re still left with a problem, right? I mean, what ARE you supposed to do when you have too many things on your plate with no realistic way to get them done? Well, that I can help you with. But I have to warn you, I’m not going to talk about clever time hacks or doing more with less. The answer involves changing your mindset and developing the right skills and habits that will allow you to upgrade the way you think and act.

Oh, and if you’re thinking, “Um, I just said I don’t have time, Anne. I guess I’ll just have to work harder.” Let me give you a physical example to illustrate why that won’t work – I mean besides the fact that it hasn’t worked, right?

 

Alicia and I just got back from Chicago for ACPA24. We were there for two days, so we needed to pack. So how does one pack? You need to know what you need based on what your goals are, while factoring in any factors that might limit how much baggage you could bring with you, right? We were in the Marketplace for two days, so I needed two professional outfits. Plus, I wanted to be comfortable traveling and when we weren’t working, so some comfier clothes. I needed my toiletries, so I had the products I prefer. I’m a light sleeper, so I always bring a sound machine to maximize the chance of getting a good night’s sleep. Finally, I’ve been having some hip and back issues, so I wanted to bring a heating pad and massage gun to keep myself feeling as good as possible during the trip. Luggage-wise, I have a duffle bag and two different sized suitcases. So, I simply looked at how much stuff I needed to bring and picked the smaller suitcase. Easy-peasy.

 

But what if I had a bunch of other stuff I was told I needed to bring or THOUGHT I needed to bring with me? I’d need a bigger bag, right? I mean, I can’t make stuff smaller than it is. Yes, there are some packing hacks that could allow me to put a few more things in, but at a certain point there’s just too much stuff to fit even in the largest size bag. Now what? Well, I’d either need more or bigger bags. The only other option is to take less stuff. And that decision would be influenced by where I was staying, how much luggage I could realistically bring, etc.  

 

In this example, you and your energy are the bag. All the things you need to do is your stuff. You only have so much work you can pack in there at a time. Some days you might have the capacity to do large luggage size work, but other days you’re only going to have duffle bag energy. That’s called being human. Yes, you can do things to increase your productivity, but those things are not just doing more. And certainly not doing more with less. When your bag is full, it’s full. Overfilling it will either break the bag and/or ruin the stuff that was in it.

 

I like to make things physical, because we tend not to think about ourselves as having limits like physical things do. I mean you can just get less sleep, come in early, stay late, work faster, etc., right? Theoretically, but just like an overstuffed bag, eventually you’re going to be stressed beyond your limits and things are going to fall apart. You have to “pack” based on the resources you have and what best aligns with your goals and values.

 

Let’s talk about what you can do to better align your work with your resources. I’m going to run through these rather quickly for the sake of time, but I have done previous articles on what I’m going to talk about here. If something resonates with you, I’d encourage you to go back and dig a bit deeper. Or reach out to me and we can talk about what you need to feel more empowered in your role.

 

Prioritize

 

Remember, there is literally no way for you to get all of this done. So, if you can’t get everything done, you need to focus on what’s most important. That involves prioritizing. And that can be hard, because when we’re stressed and caught in “fight or flight,” everything can seem urgent or a priority. But that’s not true, it just FEELS true.

 

Why isn’t everything urgent? Let’s look at the 80/20 Rule or the Pareto Principle. This started as an economic principle, but research shows it applies to almost any field. Basically, 20% of what you do accounts for 80% of your results. That means that a small percentage of what you and your team spend your time on is giving you the greatest outcomes. That also means that 80% of what you and your team spend your time on are only giving you marginal gains. Think about everything on your plate. What are the things that get you closest to your goals? That’s where your time and energy need to be spent first.

 

It doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. BUT if you’re valuing all your tasks equally and you already know you CANNOT do everything, trying to do so means you might run out of time or energy to do the things that are making the biggest impact for your students, your team, and yourself. If you’re a Franklin Covey fan, this is putting your big rocks first. Those are the things that must be done to move you and your team closer to your goals.

 

Create Effective Systems

 

Higher Ed is not known for having great systems. Sometimes, we recognize this when students are being inconvenienced. “Hey, students have to run around to three different offices to get ___ done. Let’s create a one-stop office!” Yes, let’s. But we seldom think about improving systems to make them more effective for us. Sure, there are policies and procedures from on high that we might not be able to influence easily. But what can you do within your office?

 

One of the comments from earlier was, “Time with those I supervise competing against higher level projects.” Since that was from a survey, I don’t have all the background on their particular situation. Yes, you do need to spend time actively supervising your team. But my guess is this person is talking about their team members constantly interrupting them to ask questions or looking for guidance. That’s my guess because I’ve talked about how frustrating this is.

 

The key to stopping this dynamic is to set up better systems. What might this look like? Well, do you have an open-door policy? Then they’re just using the system you set up. Do you have regular one-on-one meetings so they know they have time set aside where they can talk to you? If not, then they’re just trying to find any opportunity to connect. Do you stop what you’re doing and answer their questions when they interrupt you? Then they’re getting their needs met. YOU need to create a better system that works for you, not against you. Your team is operating within a flawed system, so find something that meets everyone’s needs.

 

Set Healthy Boundaries

 

Everything on campus feels so urgent we feel that we have no choice but to do everything. In fact, in Higher Ed we use phrases like “being a team player” or “going above and beyond,” as high praise. That has created a culture where GOOD employees have no boundaries or limits. You’ll do whatever is asked and even things that weren’t to show how much you care. Conversely, this means that folks who DO have healthy boundaries get labeled as NOT being team players or not caring. If you want to dig in a bit deeper on this idea, read my last article on Creating a Trauma Informed Workplace.

 

People above you benefit from you and your team doing more and more for less and less. You don’t benefit. Your team doesn’t benefit. I’ll even go as far to say that your students don’t benefit. Why? Because this results in employee burnout and turnover. In the end, students lose important connections and have terrible role models. They see passionate people who work themselves to exhaustion, so that’s what they think they need to do. Is that what you want for your students?

 

If instead, you prioritize and set healthy boundaries, you can communicate to your supervisor what is and isn’t feasible for your team now. This isn’t to say you should be inflexible. If your supervisor says the President needs the team to prioritize X, you may not be able to say no. But what you can do is let folks know that means you’ll no longer be able to work on Y until X is done. You can further advocate for additional resources like more staff or outsourcing tasks to create the space you need to get more done. But again, the size of the suitcase is the size of the suitcase.

 

Is this easy? No. Will it be uncomfortable? Probably. Again, these are not tricks or easy hacks to magically help you get everything done. This is about challenging the systems that are causing these problems. And that is absolutely going to require you to change how you think about and do things. You can decide it’s not worth it and keep doing what you’re doing, but eventually you or folks on your team are going to burnout and leave. The real question is how much damage it will inflict before that happens. I’ve heard from plenty of folks who have chronic health issues, both physical and mental, because of this stress.

 

Focus on Stress Management & Self-Care

 

Finally, you and your team need to focus on stress management and self-care. I’ve talked about stress and self-care a ton in previous articles, and I cannot over-emphasize how vital this is. The level of stress you are under is not helpful in any way to accomplishing your goals or helping students.

 

Stress is a physiological response. It impacts how you feel, think, and behave. It negatively impacts your decision-making skills, relationships, and intelligence. Your talents are more likely to show up as weaknesses when you’re in a stress response. You know how you look at everything in terms of time? Like, how long will this take? Or do you have enough time to get ____ done? That’s thanks to stress hormones. Not to mention, the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn/appease response takes a huge amount of energy. That’s energy that you can no longer use to be productive.

 

The ONLY thing your brain cares about when it’s in this response is your survival. Caring, calm, you can see how a new project will negatively impact your team or students and advocates for them. Stressed out you worries about getting fired, says yes, and tells your team there’s nothing that could have been done. And here’s the thing, could you possibly be fired by challenging these things. Sure. People get fired for anything and nothing all of the time. But we overestimate how likely this is when we’re stressed. I mean, given how many other people have left, can they really afford to lose you too?

 

 

Okay, so this was a very quick overview of how you can deal with the pervasive Higher Ed issue of too much work, not enough time. Again, it’s not about getting it all done. Remember, there’s a good chance that even if you DID get all of it done, it all wouldn’t accomplish what you think it would. What matters is being clear on your goals and focusing on what will make the biggest impact in achieving them. This needs to happen with respect to the resources you actually have, not what you could do if you had all the people and all the money. You don’t, so you can’t do all those things. You are not unlimited. Your team is not unlimited.

 

Should someone do something about this unhealthy and overwhelming culture? Should someone fix the systems that so clearly don’t work? Yes, obviously that would be fantastic, right? But you and your team cannot afford to wait for that to happen. Nor can you afford to keep trying to do it all. It cannot be done and it’s ruining people’s health and sense of wellbeing, including yours. What can be done is upgrading your mindset and abilities so you can challenge this culture. You can prioritize, create effective systems where you can, set healthy boundaries, and focus on better stress management for you and your team.

 

If you want more information on how you can start to change your mindset and implement what we’ve talked about today, join us for the Summer 2024 Cohort of the Supervisor Strengths Institute. Registration is open and if you register by April 19th, you’ll also get a bonus of immediate access to our Empowered Self-Care course. In the Institute, we’ll talk about how to better manage your energy, your talents, your systems, and your stress. You can get more information and register here - https://learn.strengthsuniversity.org/Institute.

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