Balancing Multiple Priorities: How to stay sane in an increasingly demanding workplace

Posted April 22, 2014 in Latest News & Insights

Do you ever feel like you’re drinking out of a fire hose when it comes to managing your never-ending to-do list?  Busy-itis is the latest affliction causing many leaders sleepless nights, missed episodes of Mad Men and feverish checking of smartphones while “relaxing” on vacation.  How much is too much?  And what can leaders in the mid ranks do to regain control?  We posed these and other questions at our spring PowerRoundtable to an illustrious panel of task juggling leaders including Steve Miles, COO International, Harlequin; Jody Steinhauer, Chief Visionary Officer, bargains group; and, Cheryl Fullerton, VP Total Rewards and Performance Management, Maple Leaf Foods; and our own Jacqui d’Eon of The Executive Roundtable / The Communications Department.  Here’s what they had to say:

Time hacks:

  • Go ugly early.  Figure out the thing your least looking forward to in your day and do that first.
  • Take the first five minutes of your day to create a to-do list and update it at the end of each day.
  • Only keep 3 things on your to-do list to allow space for other items that will invariably pop up.
  • Colour code your emails for key people based on whether you are in the “To” field or in the “cc” field. This will help you address which ones to deal with first, and even how they need to be dealt with.
  • Look to fill ‘wait periods’ (eg: after pushing an elevator button and waiting for it to arrive) with quick tasks and get small items off your plate rather than having them eat into your ‘fun/personal’ time.

Managing your boss:

  • Review your to-do lists with your boss on a regular basis.  Make sure your priorities are still their priorities.
  • Don’t just blindly take work from a superior.  Confirm how new activities advance the big agenda items.  If they don’t, ask where they fit on the priority list.
  • Don’t assume your boss understands the amount of work that may be required.  Be sure to clarify if items are “need to know” or “nice to know” before embarking on a ton of work.  Ask a question like:  “What would you (boss) do differently if you had that info?” – If nothing, then is it the right thing to work on?


  • Determine what you’re in control of and what is beyond your area of responsibility.  Don’t confuse accountability with responsibility.
  • Try to pop in/out of situations instead of being there all the time.
  • Set boundaries with technology.  It’s important to have downtime.
  • You must put yourself first. Make self-care a value.
    • Get enough sleep
    • Find the time to do what you love
    • Learn when you are most productive and use that time to your advantage

Build team capacity:

  • Make sure you’re delegating appropriately.  Value your own time and make sure you’re not spending it on tasks that are below your level of responsibility/seniority.
  • Determine where people are and where they need to be.  Think of the skill/will matrix. (Do they have the skill but not the will?  Or do they have the will but not the skill? Both? Or neither?)  Depending on the mix of your team you may need to look at training, incentives or other methods to help them take on more.
  • Be accountable and hold others accountable.  Don’t step in to “pick up the pieces”.  Have the tough conversations needed to improve performance.

Challenge the status quo:

  • It’s always a good idea to take a step back and question the value of something (don’t do it just because it’s always been done).  Meetings are a good example of this, unless the meeting is to share information people need, or to make a decision, you shouldn’t have one.

As always, there was so much more.  Thank you to all of our members who made it out and contributed their questions and insights to the session.  A special thanks to our members Jeremy Diamond of The Vimy Foundation and Amy Woods of Allstate for capturing the top take-aways from their table groups.  And of course, thanks to all of our panelists for their candor, humour and practical strategies.  See you for our next session in the Fall.

Happy leading!

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