Clean Plate Club
How do you deal with your workload
when your eyes are bigger than your stomach?
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.