Leader's Edge Managing Principals Return to Table of ContentsTell the Editor
Leader's Edge Clean Plate Club

How do you deal with your workload when your eyes are bigger than your stomach?

By  Julia Kramer

When I was little, it was a relatively easy thing to be, as my father used to say, “a charter member of the Clean Plate, Clean Cup Club.” Portions were modest, supper was always at 6 p.m. sharp, and we had plenty of time to consume and digest the meal.

Fast-forward 40 years, and today the kitchen table is my desk. When I look at my plate now, it’s full. Way too full. In fact, it’s literally and figuratively overflowing. Things to do are piled high and spilling over the edges. Once in a while, I’ve noticed, something really tasty rolls off the edge—not to be thought of again until a critical deadline is missed or a frustrated co-worker comes knocking at my door. I long for the day when I once again can be a member of the Clean Plate Club.

My too-full-plate dilemma is a common one, I know. Not only are our work portions way too big, but sometimes we like it that way. And so, as if our plates were not full enough, we serve ourselves a second helping, and sometimes a third, in the name of productivity and achievement and, honestly, because there’s no one else to serve it up to.

But as we’ve all experienced, biting off more than we can chew is not just a sure recipe for failure, but akin to an eating disorder. The question is: How does one practice portion control in a competitive and creative environment? How does one say no when what’s being served up is so enticing and potentially satisfying? Let’s look at some steps that may help minimize our tendency toward over-consumption.

Scan the menu, which may require turning a few pages. Sometimes we might think we’re scanning the menu, but all we’re seeing is one section. This is a common scenario for managers who are in charge of a functional area, division or satellite office. You may think you’re seeing the complete array of projects, initiatives and opportunities that are in planning or implementation, but in reality you might only be seeing what’s right in front of you. To make the best decisions on where to exert your energy—at the organizational, departmental and individual levels—you must be diligent in finding out what’s happening throughout the firm. If you don’t, you might fill your plate with appetizers, only to realize too late that you still have the entrée and dessert ahead of you.

Determine your healthy choices, but make sure you end up satisfied. Experts will tell you that work falls into four levels of priority: important and urgent; important but not urgent; unimportant and urgent; and lastly, unimportant and not urgent. Once you categorize your to-do list, prioritizing is a snap, right?

We should first focus on work that is important and urgent. I get it, but that’s like saying we should only consume food that has vitamins and minerals. What about the yummy factor? I don’t know about you, but a meal that focuses solely on refueling my body without attending to the need for variety and pleasure is just not going to hold my interest. Feed your whole self by setting your priorities for healthy choices, but also include some soul food as a little personal reward every now and then.

Push back from the table when your plate is full. If you’re like me, you have a hard time saying no when an opportunity to learn something new, experience something different, be part of something exciting or make something better presents itself. But don’t be a glutton. And don’t let the fear of displeasing the cook push you to overindulge.

You have two choices under these circumstances. You can either decline to take on any more work until a spot on your plate frees up or you can take something off your plate that’s already on it and put the new tidbit in its place. I highly recommend the latter option. While the first could result in missed opportunity, the second could result in a new opportunity for you and the person to whom you delegate. Look at your plate. I mean, do you really need rice and potatoes and bread? Take one of those starches and give it to someone else who may be craving carbs, and replace it with something new to give yourself a treat and some experiential balance.

Our industry is composed of a hungry bunch of strivers, and we highly value that hunger in others. But being hungry is different from compulsively gobbling up everything in sight. Be cognizant of your choices, select well and reasonably and know your limits. You’ll be able to better manage your time and your productivity, and ultimately you’ll be able to limit your appetite for those things that take up your time and energy without benefiting you or your firm.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Leadership & Management Resources.


Send Email to Author

Email PagePrint PageArticle reprintsArticle tools sponsored by


Full Leader's Edge Archive. Previously published articles, listed by subject below.

arrow Industry Leaders    arrow Wholesalers    arrow Legal Issues   arrow Regulatory Issues  
arrow International Risk arrow Human Resources    arrow Sales Issues   arrow Industry News
arrow Regulatory News    arrow Market News   arrow Cartoons













Ask Julia
Got a human resources problem you can?t resolve? Ask our HR guru Julia Kramer, SPHR, how to handle those sticky personnel issues everyone wants to avoid.