Q. I just took a job with a start-up and I don’t have an assistant or a sizable staff, as I am accustomed to. I’m excited about the company and our direction, but I’m finding it really hard to accomplish the volume of work I need to. I’m also challenged with a feeling that “I don’t do windows!” – meaning, I’m really struggling doing lower level tasks that I used to do 10 years ago. Help!
A. Having to do our jobs with much less support than before is an increasingly common problem. There are three steps I’d suggest to help: prioritizing your work so you get more done in less time; learning what to delegate; and overcoming the feeling that you’ve stepped backward.
First, when you have less time and less support to perform our duties, you need to prioritize fiercely — what matters and what’s important. I’d recommend that you identify the top ten priorities for each quarter, and share these with your supervisor for his/her approval. Then share them with your team and others who need to know. Build strong boundaries around these goals and what you have to do to accomplish them, and be assertive and confident about how you need to spend your time to effectively execute your role.
Second, if your organization is operating on a shoestring, you need a keen understanding of what you should be working on, what should be delegated, and how. Don’t be a “perfectionistic overfunctioner,” someone who thinks they have to do anything and everything — and do it perfectly — in order to be highly valued. When budgets have been cut, brainstorm new ways to accomplish lower-level tasks that are not your priority. Think about hiring an intern, finding young volunteers who want to gain experience for their resumes, using a low-cost paid contractor, or locating someone in your organization who might take on a project to learn more about your division or area of expertise. Remember, you can’t do everything – choose what’s most appropriate for you to handle, and determine how best to handle the rest.
Finally, the “I don’t do windows” sentiment is common among seasoned employees who remember vividly having large staffs and budgets. It’s a challenge to lose support that feels necessary, but the reality is, this type of support will be gone for a long time to come, and we’d better get used to it. Reframe your thinking so that it’s not about how you’ve slid backward. Focus instead on how you can become more self-reliant and accomplished, and how you can expand your toolbox with new skills and abilities that will help you continue to be a highly effective professional.