Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Learn How To Say “No” To Meetings

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 13

As you shift your priorities to people and start to work fewer hours, there will come a point when someone starts pushing you to do more.  There is always more work to do, and if you don’t set firm boundaries around our work, no one else will.  As Jody Thompson, champion of ROWE pointed out in the youtube video in the last post, what is the point of getting your work done early if it only means that you will be given more work?

Even if the corporate culture is nowhere near adopting ROWE, you may be able to negotiate something with your manager to get more flexibility.

The key to ROWE are the first two words – Results Only.  The first step is to identify the three things that will have the most impact.  To figure this out, I would write out a list of everything I was working on and the put them in rank order. I went to my manager with the list, explaining why I though certain things would have a larger impact.  Usually he agreed, but occasionally we changed the order.  And when he asked me to do something that took a lot of time but wasn’t in the top three, I would say “ok I can do it, but it will mean that X deliverable will be pushed out a few days.  Is that ok, or would you prefer me to wait on the latest thing that you need?”

Next, I declined meetings for anything that wasn’t in the top three, especially last minute or “one off” requests.  They add up to a lot of time during the week, and those extra hours take away from time at home. Sometimes it was hard, because other parts of the company thought I should be helping them, especially sales.  But I held firm if taking the meeting meant working at night. (And sometimes I adjusted, to make sales support a top three.)

A priority list gave me the power to say “I’d love to help, but my manager has told me that A, B and C are higher priorities.”  I tried to by sympathetic, and whenever possible offered alternatives, like a web site to find information, a promise for time in the future, or someone else who could help.

I always made sure I delivered high quality, on time work for the top priorities.  After all, it was a contract, to trade time freedom for higher quality work.

Often a manager is on board with the theory, but has a hard time sticking with it in practice.  Next post, more on this upward management challenge.

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