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The ‘overwhelm-crushing’ way to get things done

By James Short
23 November 2017 | 1 minute read

Your office is busy. Sometimes it feels like it’s on fire. Everything is urgent, nothing can wait and your team members are standing there with a sort of desperate animal-in-the-headlights look because they are terrified that they will choose the wrong task to focus on.

But there’s a way to maintain everyone’s sanity and actually get things done effectively.

You may have heard the phrase, “maintenance is cheaper than repairs”. Of course, it applies to your car — but also to your business. Having systems in place is absolutely vital for the smooth daily operation of your business, and these systems will also help tremendously when there’s a crisis. Every real estate agent’s dream come true, suddenly there’s a huge spike in business… and you can’t let anything slip through the cracks.


Here’s how to handle big increases in workload without losing your mind.

1. Remove distractions

This includes the obvious ones like closing your office door so you aren’t distracted by the noise of the public office areas, or delegating tasks that others can do so you are more free to focus.

Many people in leadership positions cling to their favourite tasks but don’t necessarily take into account that their time and energy could be put to better use.

I have one friend in particular who has always enjoyed doing her own filing. She insists that she does her filing better than anyone and never has to worry where something is. However, filing takes time, and by having a system in place (a thoughtfully designed filing system that makes sense to everyone) that task can be delegated.

Think about some things that you’ve been doing “forever” or out of habit, those $20/hour tasks that pull your attention away from the $200/hour tasks. Release them!

2. Brainstorm things that need to be done

ALL of them. Write them down so they aren’t clogging up your brain. Then separate them into four categories:

• Urgent but not important
• Urgent and important
• Important but not urgent
• Not urgent and not important

“Important” means tasks that move you toward your goals.

An urgent task may be getting the coffeemaker fixed because, without coffee, your team members turn into ogres. As important as getting the coffeemaker fixed may seem, it’s not really. You can send someone out to the coffee shop and treat everyone to coffee for a day, while you ask the others to focus on getting the latest planning data from the town council so that your investor/developer clients have the best information on which properties to focus on.

Once tasks are categorised, put 80 per cent of your energy on the 20 per cent that make the most difference — that’s right, the “urgent and important” group. 

Next, focus on the “important but not urgent” group, then “urgent but not important”, and IF there’s time (and your systems should already be taking care of these more mundane but necessary tasks)... “not urgent and not important”.

3. Set out tasks, appoint the right people

By “right” people, I mean not only people who are capable of the task, but those who have the time to do it. If the qualified people don’t have time, you will need to train someone or pull the qualified people away from their less-important and less-urgent tasks.

4. Set a timeline, follow up

Set reasonable timelines that challenge people, but don’t overwhelm them. Studies show that giving too much time results in inefficiency, while giving too little time results in overwhelm and paralysis.

Following up helps you to assess whether a team member is up to the task, whether they need help or guidance, and whether the timeline you set is achievable.

As you can see, building a foundation of systems and being able to prioritise tasks are key.

Most of your energy should be spent in setting your team up for success by:

• Having the simplest possible systems for getting the mundane stuff done regularly, and allowing a re-direction of people’s time/energy for unexpected crises.
• Knowing and clearly communicating what is urgent and/or important.
• Delegating to the right people (and adapting to the situation by either lightening their load or training other people).
• Setting timelines and following up.

Following these steps regularly — not just in times of crisis — will help maintain a smooth-running organisation that can scale its efforts to accommodate spikes in business or unforeseen predicaments.

The ‘overwhelm-crushing’ way to get things done
james short
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James Short

James Short

James Short has been assisting principals and directors lead and grow their businesses for the past six years. Taking them from being stuck, unclear and not moving forward to having that clarity, direction and accountability within their organisation.

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