Avoid feeling overwhelmed with tasks

Overwhelmed with tasks: Overview

Lots of finance leaders are feeling overwhelmed with tasks and need to take action to avoid this derailing your career and impacting on your work-life balance. Feeling overwhelmed makes it difficult to free up time to focus on more value enhancing tasks and to help deliver your company’s business plan. It can also have a huge impact on your level of job satisfaction and overall energy levels.

Some statistics

Our GrowCFO community is constantly highlighting the challenge of feeling overwhelmed with tasks and this is one of the biggest issues impacting on the community. In fact, 45% of finance leaders consider this to be one of their top three biggest challenges.

The root cause

As with any big challenge, it is important to start by understanding its root cause.

Here are some of the typical reasons why finance leaders identify feeling overwhelmed with tasks as being one of their main challenges:

  • Being responsible for leading multiple operations, such as Finance, HR, Legal, Procurement and IT;
  • Constantly given tasks that do not naturally fit into the other management team’s job descriptions;
  • Feeling afraid to say no when asked to do something;
  • Often considered to be the best person in your company to deal with problem-solving and complex challenges;
  • Feeling as though you are the only person in your team with the right skills to complete a task; and
  • Having to constantly deal with the financial consequences of other people’s actions.

Most finance leaders know that they need to address at least some of these issues. However, many people either struggle to identify the best techniques to address them, or feel uncomfortable towards engaging in difficult conversations with senior colleagues.

The symptoms of feeling overwhelmed with tasks

Finance leaders should start by identifying how often your feel overwhelmed with tasks.  Everybody will have their moments, but are these occasionally, weekly, daily or ongoing?

What is your most common response when somebody asks how you are?  GrowCFO is constantly hearing people say that they are “Busy”, “Very busy” or “Extremely busy”.

These responses are not necessarily an issue, but you need to consider whether your version of busy is in control, or busy out of control.  If out of control, then your overwhelm may be connected with stress, which can narrow your focus, perspective and energy levels.  This often makes things feel more difficult than they really are and can be very demotivating for high achievers.

Constantly feeling overwhelmed can lead to a vicious cycle of negative emotions that impact on your decision-making and reactions to various situations.  It can be extremely tiring and have a huge impact on your morale.  Simple tasks will suddenly take much longer and procrastination will prevent you from delivering your biggest requirements.

People who suffer from overwhelm tend to communicate less with others.  You are likely to spend more time trying to complete tasks alone.  You will typically have less patience with others, and minimal time available to develop, support and motivate your teams.

Your starting point is to create regular time for self-reflection.  Identify why you are feeling overwhelmed and what impact this has on your performance.  You need to determine whether your workload is sustainable and how you can alter this.

Placing value on yourself

Time management is often connected with success.  The question here is what does success mean to you?  

Our self-worth is often tied to our daily activities.  There are only 24 hours in a day and most people have plenty of non-work commitments, therefore time will always be a limiting resource.  Most people have a similar amount of available time and spend this based upon their own perceived value.

Challenge yourself about your role and what you are really being paid to do.  Where is your time most valuable?  Finance leaders should spend more time thinking and less time doing.

You have a unique financial perspective combined with strong working knowledge of your company’s performance data.  This allows you to use your commercial awareness to provide valuable insights that create huge value.

Avoid doing low value tasks

Too many finance leaders fill their time with basic recurring tasks that add little value to their company.  This is often at the expense of time spent on supporting the board and helping other people to make better decisions.

Set yourself boundaries and stop allowing others to hijack your time with tasks that can be delegated.  It is important to measure your impact on the amount of success you deliver, rather than how long you spend on tasks.

You may need to identify strategies to block out any negative messages within your subconscious mind to avoid this approach leading to stress and anxiety.  Build inner confidence to focus on the value that you bring to your team and wider organization.

Your personal energy

You need to manage your energy to fully ignite your talent and skills.  At CFO level, you must perform at your best to deliver your company’s business plan.  You need the right level of energy for each element of your role, including presenting at board meetings and managing investors.

Research suggests that you should break your day into 90-minute blocks to avoid becoming unproductive.  You should label each block with a clearly defined outcome.  Identify which hours in the day are your most productive and spend this time delivering your more challenging tasks.

Determine how you can best reignite your energy between each 90-minute block.  You must carefully plan your recovery routine to optimise your performance before starting the next block.  Popular activities are those that make you feel positive, calm and refocused.  For example, getting some fresh air, taking exercise or changing location.

Your belief system

Finance leaders often end up feeling overwhelmed with tasks due to their own belief system.  Most finance leaders are high performers, which can turn you into a perfectionist.  This creates a belief that you are the only person who can complete the task without something going wrong.  It also causes you to spend too much time on each task by going into more detail than necessary.

You need to determine when to give yourself permission to be imperfect in the short-term.  This may involve ditching certain tasks, delegating them to others or recognising that sometimes good is good enough.  Teaching someone else what you already know and trusting them to deliver your tasks has a huge impact on your overall workload.

Time management

Finance leaders should develop a time management strategy that allows you to focus on efficiently delivering the most value-adding activities.

The best way to manage your time is to determine what you can do today that will save you time tomorrow.  There are many ways to “multiple your time”, for example by simplifying, delegating, ditching, automating or outsourcing tasks.  You can also multiple your time by focusing more effort on upskilling your team and recruiting additional team members.

Avoid doing things over again for the sake of it.  Try to spend more time on tasks that give you the best return on investment.  These will free up much more of your time going forward.

Finally, challenge yourself on what really needs to be done today.  Classifying tasks as urgent versus important is a very popular technique.

Overwhelmed with tasks: Your finance leader challenge

Finance leaders should complete the following activities to avoid feeling overwhelmed with tasks:

  • Regularly self-reflect to identify why you are feeling overwhelmed and its impact.
  • Monitor your weekly activities and time available for recovery and thinking.
  • Challenge your approach towards prioritising and allocating tasks.
  • Identify opportunities to simplify, delegate, delay or ditch tasks.
  • Spend more time on doing things today that will make the biggest difference tomorrow.

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