Do your staff’s work or requests end up sitting in your in-box for weeks because you’re swamped with other priorities? If your workload means that you’re creating a bottleneck in your team’s workflow, here are some ways to get that flow unstuck, so that work keeps moving.
1. Take a fresh look at what work needs to go through you. Do you really need to sign off on or be involved in everything that’s going through you? If you have skilled and experienced employees, could they either handle some or all of it themselves, or be coached to do so over time? Managers often resist taking themselves out of the loop on work because they’re nervous about how projects might go or they feel that work will be better if they’re involved. And frankly, often that’s true, but the question for you is: By how much? If you’re only making a marginal improvement in quality, it might not be worth the cost of delaying it for days or weeks while it waits for your attention … as well as the cost of possibly demoralizing people and not developing your employees’ skills.
2. Take a look at your other priorities too. The answer to removing a bottleneck isn’t always as simple as “just take yourself out of the loop”; sometimes there are good reasons that you need to be involved. If that’s the case, it’s time to take a broad look at everything that’s on your plate and ensure that you’re prioritizing your time by where your impact will be greatest. That might mean that you realize that you’re spending time on things with less payoff and you’re able to carve out some of that time to deal with the bottlenecked items. Or it might mean that you realize that you have indeed prioritized correctly; sometimes a bottleneck reflects the reality that there are simply more pressing demands right now (in which case you can convey that situation to your team and move on to the next step).
3. Talk to your staff about how to make it easier for you to give fast answers. For example, if you find that people are sending you unpolished drafts or incomplete work, causing you to spend more time polishing, make it clear that work should be in what they consider final form before it comes to you. Or you might ask people to dispense with lengthy emails and instead provide you with a clear, concise statement of what they need (along with their proposed solution, if possible, since that will make it easier for you to give a quick yes or no). Or you might ask people to save up most items for a weekly one-on-one rather than sending you things for input throughout the week.
4. When all else fails, communicate clearly. Be realistic about your workload and your likely response time, and fill your staff in on where things stand. Let people know right away if you’re not likely to get to something for another week (or month), and give people an advance heads-up when you’re coming up on a particularly busy period. It can go a long way to say something like, “Next week, I’m going to be focused on preparing for the board meeting, so if you’ll need something from me during that time, please get it to me before this Tuesday.”