Managing a heavy workload – five strategies re contextualised to the world of ECEC

by Freya Lucas

January 17

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

As we move in to 2019, we know that just as in previous years, there will be periods of time where work piles up, and it will seem like there’s no end in sight.

 

Whatever your position – manager, director, area manager, educational leader, room leader, educator, early childhood teacher, executive – if there is one thing we know in early childhood education and care (ECEC) it is that our world is anything but predictable.

 

With this in mind, Assistant Editor at The Sector, Freya Lucas, has reimagined this LifeHack about heavy workloads, contextualising it to the unique, challenging, and ever changing world of ECEC, in a two part series.

 

Part One

 

Know your limits – understand and accept that you can’t do it all

 

Are you the type of person everyone in your workplace comes to, because you’re known as the one with all the answers, or the one who will get the job done?

 

Do you frequently find yourself saying, at the midpoint of a task “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew?”

 

Many ECEC professionals overestimate their capacity, and take on more and more responsibility, or wear numerous “hats”

 

There’s committees to join, articles to write, conferences to attend, audits to complete, recycling projects, group challenges, reflective journals, facebook forums – the list will literally never end, if you allow it to be so.

 

The problem here is, as you’re ticking items off, more items are waiting in the background. Meeting minutes to record and read, inbox filling up with messages, phone calls to be returned.

 

In order to make progress here, brave steps are needed. Acknowledging that you can’t be all things to all people, being prepared to disappoint people by saying no, and looking for better solutions.

 

Business coach Mark Pettit’s wisdom here is “The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.”

 

What makes you wonderful?

 

Whatever their role within a service or organisation, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

 

The challenge in many places is that people end up undertaking roles, or elements of roles, which don’t match their strengths.

 

Educators who have wonderful, warm relationships with children and families find themselves struggling over grammar and sentence structure when producing documentation for those same children and families.

 

Centre managers or directors who struggle with accounting spend many hours labouring over profit and loss reports, or balancing books, when their strengths lie in supporting their educators to reflect on practice, or offering solutions to complex behavioural issues.

 

In pursuit of getting jobs done, ticking things off lists, and delivering on promises, often times ECEC professionals will take on things which don’t play to their unique strengths. This, Mr Pettit says, can result in frustration, becoming overwhelmed and overworking.

 

The advice here is to think not about HOW to best complete a task, but WHO. Mr Pettit offers the following reflective questions, to ask of yourself, and your team, to support everyone in ensuring workloads are managed more effectively.

 

  • Are you a great strategist?

 

  • Are you an effective planner?

 

  • Is Project Management your strength?

 

  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?

 

  • Are you the ideas person?

 

  • Is Implementation your strength?

 

Divide and conquer – the power of delegating

 

One of the simplest ways to manage workloads effectively, Mr Pettit says, is to free up your time, so that you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strength to each of the tasks you need to complete.

 

But before you assign a trainee in your service to answer emails, complete accounts or deal with a parent complaint, there are some important aspects to consider.

 

Firstly, tasks should only be delegated if the person to whom the task is delegated stands to learn something from the experience. A delegated task presents an opportunity to upskill someone, and support them in their own career progression.

 

Secondly, delegation is not abdication – once a task is delegated, you’re responsible for supporting, following up, and ensuring that the staff member who has taken on the task has everything they need to be successful.

 

Delegation can be a powerful way to harness the strengths of your team – a way to empower yourself and those around you. Every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at, Mr Pettit says.

 

The closing advice here is rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

 

Measure twice, cut once – prepare, plan, plan again

 

One hour of planning time could save six hours of fixing up errors, or finding a new way to complete a task when the original way failed. It was Benjamin Franklin who said “failure to prepare is preparing to fail”

 

Whether you’re undertaking a centre wide review of programming, introducing a company wide initiative, writing a risk assessment, or preparing for Assessment and Rating visits, Mr Pettit offers the following dot points as planning guides. Think about:

 

  • The purpose of your task or project

 

  • The level of importance – is it the right time to take this on?

 

  • When does it need to be delivered by? What else is happening in the meantime that might impact?

 

  • What’s the best case scenario/worst case scenario for the outcomes of what you’re about to do? Can you live with both?

 

  • What are the key milestones that will show you you’re on the right track?

 

  • Who’s working with you, and what are they responsible for?

 

  • What are the challenges you expect to encounter? Do you have any proposed solutions?

 

Focus on Priorities

 

The ECEC day can often feel like a triage situation, with a range of competing priorities. In any given moment, there are children, families, fellow employees and regulatory elements to consider.

 

Mr Pettit recommends choosing five priorities for the day, and dividing them into four categories, based on the Eisenhower Matrix. Tasks can be categorised as Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately), Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later), Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else), Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

 

James Clear has taken this concept a step further, and uses the headings do, decide, delegate and delete. You can read more about his method here.


Whichever method you use, it’s important to weigh up any new incoming tasks against your priority list, and add anything not accomplished during the day to the next days list, Mr Pettit says.

 

In Part Two of this series, we will explore multitasking, work/life balance, time blocking, distractions and more.

 

Part two of this series will be linked here following publication.

 

The original article by Mark Pettit can be accessed here.

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