October 19, 2022

Staying On Track - Even On Busy Days

Tips on prioritizing tasks and communicating your workload with your team


Alexandra Bonetti

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At Common Code we offer in-Slack On-Demand Coaching. Like texting your therapist, but for your career. These questions come from our On-Demand Coaching clients.

Q: How do I get all of my to-dos done on busy days? It is frustrating trying to accomplish something and then getting off track.

From Jessica - Team Lead of a Hybrid Team based out of Toronto


Hey Jessica! Thanks for reaching out. This is very very normal to experience. In fact, it’s one of our most frequently asked coaching questions at every level of seniority. So breathe deeply knowing that there are plenty of actionable things you can start doing today that will deeply impact you and your team in a positive way. We believe achieving “productivity nirvana” is actually a deeply rewarding journey that you’ll continuously re-calibrate to fit your career and your personal life. This “productivity nirvana” is made up of many levers, most of which are actually about doing less, not more. But all of them require you being unapologetically honest with yourself, your manager, and your team.

Second, the most obvious place to start, and only you will know this, is what is truly “getting you off track.” This could be your own attention span, your team’s demands, the pure workload ahead of you, and more.

We’ll focus on the most common reason we come across for not being able to get things done: unrealistic expectations (either set by yourself for yourself or by your manager/team for you). For example, if you have 4 hours of meetings and 4 hours available to work, and yet you have 7 hours of work ahead… Well, we’re not mathematicians but we can pretty confidently tell you that’s just not going to happen. Additionally, truly understanding your capacity goes beyond “hours available and hours of work.” We all have to, over time, develop the self awareness of what gives us the best bang for our brain-buck. Maybe you work best sitting down for 30 minutes “on” (deep work), 30 minutes “off” (answering emails). Maybe you work best by blocking off chunks of hours, or even a day at a time to get your most important work done. That might mean that in your 4 hours of non-meeting time available, you may actually hold 3 hours of productivity, and knowing that will unlock truly smart and rewarding time management and goal setting. 

Having said that, here are three actionable things you can do today:

  1. Ruthlessly prioritize what MUST get done today (if you need more help with prioritizing, take a look at this article we’re fans of). 

  1. Confirm that you actually can get those MUSTS done by setting “time needed to execute” against each priority. Then look at your calendar and ensure you have that time available. Block that time on your calendar. Do it now before someone else does, we’ll wait. 

  1. Communicate with your team your MUSTS for the day and when you’ll be focused on them (sample script below). 

Note: If you’re a human being working with other human beings, chances are high that new important/urgent/critical things will arise, almost daily. When new things arise, how you deal with them will matter. Switching gears over and over again will result in wasted time. If you encounter a new “must-do” for the day, you have to start this 3-step process over to understand again what your priorities are and what you can get done.

Why communicating your workload with your team is so critical:

Your team members can’t read your mind. We know, that’s not groundbreaking to read, but it’s an important reminder. When someone Slacks you “hey can you help with this” or “hey can you join this meeting” they have no idea what you’re working on, nor should they be responsible to figure it out. It’s your responsibility to communicate your needs and availability with your team, to create transparency and a positive work environment.

Action items for communicating with your team your day’s workload:

  1. Share your must-get-dones or daily priorities with your team. This is one of the most powerful habits you can build by using Common Code’s stand up questions each morning. (You can turn these on from your settings). 
  2. Use your Slack status. Don’t just use it to signal you’re busy, also use it to signal when you’re free. For example, “🚪Doing some light work, my virtual door is open if you want to chat.”
  3. Use your Daily Temp Check to set the workload tone for the day. For example, “🟡 beautiful morning today in Toronto, have already had my coffee and getting ready for lots of focused heads down work today. Won’t be able to hang out with y’all as much today, since lots of work on deck, which makes me a bit yellow, but committed to a productive day ahead.”

Here’s a sample script you could use to communicate with your team :

Hi team! I wanted to give you a heads up that I have a packed day(week) and will need to be very focused and efficient to get it all done. I’m blocking my calendar accordingly to work on the things that must get done. 

Please let me know if you anticipate you’ll need something from me today(this week) so I can organize myself and make sure I’m available when you need me. This might mean I will have to respectfully decline a meeting or not be able to support you in some way today(this week). If it’s important to you that I attend or help, please verbalize that to help me align to what’s most important. 

Thank you for understanding and for your support!

Your homework:

1x this week: use your daily Temp Check to communicate workload expectations for your team

2x this week: use your Slack status to communicate available/free time (rather than busy time)

3x this week: use your daily Common Code stand up to share with your team your priorities for the day (this will also help you get clear on what you must get done that day)

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