Every manager knows to expect that there will always be more demands on their time than time available. Most are able to manage the day-to-day ebb and flow of work. It can get stressful, however, when demands are urgent yet seem unrealistic, when they come ‘at the wrong time,’ because you have many other urgent priorities, when you feel that someone is taking advantage of you, or when your boss is asking you take on a long term commitment on top of everything else you are doing.

All of us need to respond to demands at work that are add-ons to an already full plate. They may come from our boss, our staff, or another department in the organization. Answering with silence, or a long list of ‘to dos’, will not build the other party’s understanding of your situation.

Instead, have a prepared, focused statement about how you are spending your time, and deliver it in a way that gets others to support you.

In your statement, you will

  • State the top 2 to 3 types of activities that occupy at least 70 to 80 percent of your time
  • State the specified results your work achieves
  • State the specified people whom your work impacts

For example:

50% of my time is planning and evaluating programs, and providing direct supervision to staff who provide service so clients can live independently in the community;

20% of my time is troubleshooting problems [e.g. I.T., Facility, lack of support from Finance/H.R.] so my staff can see more people;

10% of my time is writing proposals and reports to get additional funding for our programs and services.

For additional clarity of impact, prepare a similar statement about the work your team does:

70% of my staff provide direct client services so that clients can stay independent in the community;

10% of their time is spent on administrative tasks such as writing notes or taking WHMIS training, so that we practice client and staff safety;

10% of their time is spent in team meetings or continuing personal development activities to strengthen our capacity individually and as a team.

Of course, you don’t want to sound like a robot, or stutter through your statement when delivering it. Also, if the request is coming from your boss, you know that they will feel an urgency for your help to solve a problem, not to hear what else you are working on.

Here are 7 ways to prepare to write and deliver your statement:

Think of the context first

Responding quickly to shuffle your workload around to accomplish a short term task are signs of flexibility and being on top of your work. However, if you are being asked repeatedly to take on additional tasks, or to take on the long term management of an additional program, schedule a time outside of the urgency of the request to discuss your workload, and options, with your boss. You can use the statement at that time to get their support.

Have the main points in your statement ready ahead of time

Draft it, test it with others, and redraft it till it has meaningful information that is easy to understand.

Make it relevant to both your role and that of the organization

Include information in the statement that describes activity and impact, so that people will understand the benefits to clients and the organization.

Deliver it in a conversational mode to engage with the other person

Use a friendly, non-defensive tone. Don’t respond to someone making a demand with, ‘Can’t you see how busy I am?’ Nor say, ‘What of my current workload would you like me to not do?’ Instead, say, ‘That is important work you are describing. I don’t know how I can take that on since we’re already busy with the priority around programming to keep people living independently in the community.’

Practice delivering your statement

Know the main points you want to make. And, consider how you would prioritize certain of the points given the context of the request you get. For example:

  • For the general ‘elevator pitch’ when someone asks about what you do, state the main responsibility and impact or benefit to the organization and its clients.
  • For a discussion with someone about efficiency, summarize the key points using percentages, and make it clear you connect the amount of resources being used with achieving a certain amount of activity, delivered at a certain level of quality. For example, instead of saying, ‘my team is seeing all the clients they can see’, say ‘my team is seeing 80% of the targeted number, but the complexity is 50% higher than the regular population, and we are achieving our quality targets’.

Be prepared to re-evaluate your priorities, or to ‘offer’ what you can take on

Assess what it is you are being asked to do and by whom; for example, is the request a clear top priority coming from your boss rather than someone who typically passes their problem or work onto you to avoid addressing it themselves?

If appropriate to consider, or unavoidable not to, calculate how the added work will affect your other priorities, articulate the potential impact on results for which you and/or your team are accountable, and ‘problem solve’ with the other person; for example, “I can help with this much, in this time frame, if it’s ok that the other ‘deliverable’ is ‘done less’, or ‘delayed’, or ‘done by someone else’”.

Be prepared to get more offers from others to help you with your work

Once you clearly share your priorities, you will find that others better understand those priorities and your focus. This can lead to increased networking with individuals who now have a better idea how their work relates to yours.

In summary, demands regularly exceed the time available in the manager’s day-to-day accountabilities. Being proactive in knowing your priorities and impact can help you respond in a timely and effective way to get the support of others for your work.