Getting back to work – a brief guide

Hi there!

A fresh year, a fresh decade. Starting a new year always energizes me. I mean the holidays are great, but all the planning and travelling takes its toll. That’s why the start of January is something I look forward to.

And this year is extra special for me: I’m excited to be bringing you the English version of my book GRIP in 2020! I’ll keep you posted here.

Starting today, I’m back at work. But where to begin? Here are five practical steps I’ll be taking to help get things back under control.

1. Make some room for getting things in order

Have the feeling that countless things are demanding your attention? Overwhelmed by all there is to do and don’t know where to start? Don’t just keep plugging away, but take a moment. Odds are, you’re not working on the right thing anyway, and that just adds to the stress. You need a good overview first.

Clear the next hour in your schedule to pull back, look at the big picture, and make an overview of what you need to get done.

2. Create an overview

The key to clarity and peace of mind is a good sense of what you need to get done. It’s that simple.

Usually, I turn to my calendar and a task manager (OmniFocus) to organize my time and plan my work. Here’s a list of the apps I recommend. But in a crisis, systems can be distracting.

At times like these, a blank sheet of paper is your best friend.

Start by identifying all those loose ends floating around in your head. Make a list – you can make it as long as you want – of all the tasks and jobs that are causing you stress. Then scan your calendar, to-do list, email, and other tools you use at work to make sure you haven’t left off anything important. Your list might look something like this:

Urgent tasks on the left (sorry for making you think about taxes!), responsibilities on the right. Turns out it doesn’t look that bad.

Urgent tasks on the left (sorry for making you think about taxes!), responsibilities on the right. Turns out it doesn’t look that bad.

Now list your responsibilities so they’re clear. In my last job at Blendle, for instance, I was responsible for these four areas:

  • Develop our product: Ensure we have more users and more use, through optimizing the product and adding select new features.

  • Develop our team: Ensure we’ve got a great group of people, through training and possibly recruitment.

  • Think about Blendle’s business strategy: Form an opinion and a vision for where the company should be headed.

  • Develop myself: Ensure I grow and develop in my work and continue to challenge myself.

Don’t underestimate how much impact it can have when your responsibilities are clear. It makes choosing what you need to do – and saying no – a thousand times easier.

You’ll use both lists in the next essential step: Getting rid of stuff.

3. Decide what you’re not going to work on

You’re in a crisis situation, so merciless elimination is in order. The key here is to communicate communicate communicate. It’s always a relief when you can get 2 or 3 major tasks out of the way, if only temporarily. Do that in close consultation with those involved, and you’ll immediately feel the effect of creating some space. Stress levels will plummet.

Bonus: your overview of responsibilities is going to help you see where the gaps are and what tasks don’t seem to fall to you. That may mean more chances for postponing.

4. Rework your calendar for the day

My driver’s ed instructor would always say that the key to being a good driver was anticipating what everyone else on the road might do. The same is true for scheduling. Are you about to get blocked in? Anticipate that and use your calendar to break free.

I’ve been in hour-and-a-half-long meetings I could easily have skipped, if I’d had any real sense of what had to happen. I should’ve taken charge of my calendar and reworked my day. That’s how to gain control over your work.

So check your calendar and be critical: What appointments do you have to keep today? How much space can you clear in your schedule?

5. Get started!

Now you just have to do the actual work. Let coworkers know you’re working on solving a crisis. Go into bunker mode if it helps: set up an Out of Office reply for emails, turn off your cell and Slack, and dive into your work.

I recommend going through these steps each week, by the way. Preferably not on Monday morning, because everything’s already up and running then and you’ll be playing catch-up. Make time for these steps again early Friday afternoon or in a quiet moment in the weekend. You’ll soon see how much more in charge of your workweek it makes you.

Good luck and all the best for 2020!