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20 Nov

When I first started out in the working world, I seemed to have a good work life balance – well that’s my memory of it.

As I did different jobs and moved around the organisation, I worked more hours.  At times I did not feel I achieved much more with the extra hours. 

Working on tenders and developing detailed proposals required long sustained hours to achieve a specific deadline.  It seemed that there was only work without respite. 

The number one work place issue for 2018 as reported by CNBC for Americans was work life balance.  This may not be the case for Australians, but I doubt it is far behind.

It is my belief that the real issues around work life balance is that we try to do too much at work.  This is either self-imposed in the belief that what is required is important or encouraged by bosses who just add tasks without being aware of the actual workload.

I know as a boss in the past I was certainly guilty of piling work onto others. 

The issue is always what is most important.  Is it urgent because there is some sort of deadline?   Is it important to the long-term requirements of the organisation?

Managing work effectively is about being able to prioritise the tasks.  If you can do this effectively then you can focus on the most important tasks.

Many people feel that all the tasks are important and don’t seem to be able to prioritise.  After all the work was given to you so it must be important.  This will eventually lead to stress and anxiety as you fail to deliver on something that indeed turned out to be important.

The very best way to prioritise the work is to discuss it with your boss.  The discussion should focus on what is top priority say “A” and by when, then the next level, say “B” and when these are required and finally the lowest priority say “C” are those if you have time.

Organising these with your boss or the significant stakeholder is good for everyone involved.  It makes sure that you're working on “stuff” that is important as agreed by the parties, it ensures the parties have a say in what is important and finally it helps clarify why somethings are likely not to be done.  Working on “A” tasks until they are done will ensure that you are always doing the right thing.  It is my experience that “C” activities usually get dropped altogether and that “B” activities might move to “A”.  

The most interesting part of the break down is the proportion of “A” versus the “B”s and “C”s.  The “A”s tend to be the smaller.  Yet if we look at the total number of tasks we can be overwhelmed.  Focusing only on the “A”s saves time and decreases stress.  Don’t be lured into making all tasks “A”s.  

Additionally, I have found that it is good to discuss what is involved in the task and the quality of the outcome required.  Your boss may want a simple answer that is a best approximation given limited information, but, you may have interpreted as a much larger complex exercise.  Clarity of requirements is a key to avoid wasted energy and time-consuming effort.
All of this is done during the prioritising session, by the questions you ask and how the tasks help the boss, the organisation and the relevant importance to both.

Key questions I like to ask: 
- What impact will this task have on the organisation/people?
- Can we measure the impact in some way where we see the benefit?
- How does this compare to other tasks in order to prioritise?
- What if we did not do this task at all – what would happen?
- Am I the best person to do this – could it be done better by someone else?
Making sure that you do what is essential at work allows you to avoid spending excessive hours on tasks that offer little perceived value.  You avoid worrying about what you have not done.  This makes your time off much more enjoyable.
Here is and interesting article that has more tips on work life balance.