Not every company has a steady workflow. For some businesses, work comes in waves. Whether it’s a torrent of customers at lunchtime or client assignments that come in sporadically, varying workloads can make capacity management a challenge.
So how do you help your team use its time productively in the midst of inconsistencies? Try these seven time management tips to help your team successfully surf the workload waves.
1. Establish Your Priorities
Sometimes a wave of work will wash in all at once. Before you get in over your head, sit down and prioritize all the work you have in front of you.
One way to do this is with the Eisenhower matrix. This matrix categorizes tasks according to urgency and importance. Tasks that are both urgent and important—say, getting a contract signed before a budget deadline—should go to the front of your queue.
Some tasks will be time-sensitive but not critical to achieving your goals. Sure, your payroll taxes have to be paid on time, but your team needn’t do it. Outsource it to a payroll processing company or automate it with payroll software.
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Tasks in the other two quadrants can be put on the back burner for the time being. Follow this process until you’ve prioritized all your team’s tasks, then get started on the list-topping items.
2. Keep a List of Non-Urgent Work
When work comes in waves, there will be occasions when the tide is out. Rather than leave your employees high and dry, have them work on the non-urgent tasks identified during the prioritization stage.
Start with projects that, while not time-sensitive, are important to advancing your company’s goals. Here’s your chance to research a new market, woo a potential client, do some strategic planning and so on. These activities will keep your employees occupied and contribute to your company’s long-term growth.
That leaves those non-urgent, non-important tasks for last. Some of these you might jettison completely, but others are moderately good uses of your team members’ time. They’ll be more efficient once they’ve cleared their inboxes, say, or tidied their workspaces. Running audits, organizing common areas of the office and tackling other administrative duties all have a place here.
3. Distribute Workloads Evenly
No matter how much work your team is facing, do your best to distribute it evenly. If one team member is the go-to person for every task, they will get overwhelmed while others stand idle. Plus, by taking on too much labor, your superworker will struggle to use their time efficiently.
Break up large assignments into smaller subtasks so you can better divvy them up. “Marketing campaign for Client X” is less daunting when one team member writes the email sequences, another creates the digital ads and yet another crafts the social media posts.
Task calendars can help your team keep track of each person’s workload. When a flood of new assignments comes in, you’ll know who can take work on and who is busy already. Striking the right balance will make the best use of everyone’s time.
4. Play to Your Team’s Strengths
You’ll do an even better job of task assignment when you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Some employees can handle the pressure of last-minute deadlines; others excel when allowed to take their time on longer, more complicated projects.
Once you’ve learned the qualities of each of your team members, develop a strategy for busy times and slow days. Assign the urgent-important tasks to your deadline fiends, while entrusting longer-term initiatives to your methodical thinkers. With teammates working together and relying on each other’s strengths, there’s no problem that can’t be solved.
5. Implement Project Management Software
Prioritization and task assignment can be managed much more easily by using project management software. These nifty tools provide features for distributing workloads, tracking progress on tasks and facilitating communication among teammates.
Free options include Trello, ClickUp and Asana, while paid systems like ProofHub, Smartsheet and Jira offer robust capabilities for the largest enterprises. Automated features can speed things along when work gets extremely busy. With all the choices available, you’re sure to find a tool that meets your team’s needs.
Project management software is especially helpful when working with a remote team. Keeping tabs on employees who aren’t office regulars is a logistical challenge, but strengthening the connection is as easy as a download.
6. Plan for Surges You Can See Coming
While some waves are unpredictable, there are others you can foresee. E-commerce companies can staff up and lay in extra inventory before the holiday shopping season, for example. Appointment-based businesses (hair salons, dentist’s offices, etc.) can monitor their online calendars to see which days will be busy or not and set team schedules accordingly.
Having a plan in place, no matter how closely you actually follow it, will prepare your team for the work to come. As Eisenhower himself said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.”
Consider what your looming workload will require. Do you need to hire more staff? Bring on some freelancers? Reassign tasks or designate backups for particular employees? By thinking through your team’s needs beforehand, you’ll minimize inefficient scrambling when the wave crests.
7. Make Time for Breaks
The goal of time management is to maximize productivity. This means it’s important to let your team rest. Pile on too much work without a proper break, and productivity will tank along with energy levels.
In some jobs, a large wave of work will leave no opportunity for a rest. This is certainly the case for food service jobs and other time-sensitive occupations. Letting employees take a few minutes after a rush will help them catch their breath and regain their composure.
When the workload comes in waves, managing your team’s time can be challenging. By following these time management tips, you’ll help your team members ride the dips and swells with confidence.