By Jennifer Olsen
Earlier this month I served as one of the mentors at the Puget Sound Business Journal’s (PSBJ) Mentoring Monday Event. This annual speed-coaching event simultaneously takes place in 41 cities across the U.S. with nearly 10,000 mentors and mentees in attendance. It’s a great opportunity for business women to meet other female professionals and gain insights that may resonate and help elevate their career.
This year at my mentoring table, my co-mentor and I continued to hear the question, “How do you manage it all?” One mentee lamented that she felt like “everyone else has it all together.” We reassured this woman and the other mentees that we are far from perfect at managing everything going on in our personal and professional lives and that anyone stating that they do have it all perfectly together, is probably not telling the truth.
It was evident to me that in these fast-paced, innovation-driven, and uncertain times today’s business women are struggling to establish the boundaries they need to have a sense of balance. We received question after question about how we manage our time, how we prevent feeling overwhelmed and how we manage to take vacations.
Over the course of my seven speed-mentoring sessions I had during Mentoring Monday, I shared five tips that I use to prevent overwhelm:
Tip 1: Pick two things you have to get done.
At the start of my day, I pick two things I must get done. Then, before I do anything else, I make some progress against those two things. This ensures that nothing else gets in the way and it also helps me feel less overwhelmed because I know I’m chipping away at the two most important items on my list.
Tip 2: Manage your inbox.
If there’s something in my inbox that’s been sitting there for a few days, I ask myself if there’s a reason I’m avoiding it. Based on the answer to that question, I have three responses: set a timer, and take action on that item. Delegate that task to someone else and provide them with an opportunity for development, or delete and where appropriate, let the sender know it’s not a focus.
Tip 3: Be clear about your boundaries during vacation.
Before I leave for vacation, I’m clear with myself about the boundaries I want to set regarding whether or not I’m available. I’m then honest in my email auto-reply so that people are aware of my boundaries.
Two CEOs in my network state in their auto-reply that they aren’t checking email while on vacation, and they won’t read any messages they receive while they’re gone when they return. The direction they provide in their automatic reply is: “If you want a response, please re-send your message to me after I return.”
While I’m gone on vacation, I ask everyone on my team not to CC me on messages. Instead, the last working day before my return, if needed, each of them sends me an email to recap what I need to know about what happened during my absence. This makes it easy for me to take action based on timely information from each person instead of sifting through many messages to determine what remains relevant.
Tip 4: Establish a code for communication.
As a company that operates virtually, it’s important for everyone at Resourceful HR to know and respect when teammates are and aren’t available to communicate. We use Skype for instant messaging and have adopted the use of a color code to let one another know our status: red means we can’t be disturbed; yellow means we can be disturbed if it’s an urgent matter; and, green means we are available to communicate.
Having this code means we don’t need to negotiate that boundary over an over again. Everyone uses the system, and we’re able to communicate and interact when the time is right. If you’re in an office, you can set up a team communication “code” using a door or other visual reminder. For example, an open door might mean you’re available; an ajar door indicates you can be interrupted for important matters, and a closed door means do not disturb.
Tip 5: Be strategic in your approach to meetings.
The existence of too many meetings is a common problem for today’s professionals. My approach to meetings is to be strategic about the number of internal meetings, external meetings, and evening events I’m willing to schedule each week. If an additional meeting comes up outside of that number, I do everything I can to make it happen during a different week.
I also try to keep my schedule on Friday afternoons open. This allows me to finish anything that needs my attention and clear my mind before the weekend. It’s so important that we all take the time to re-charge if we want to be productive at work and at home.
I was honored to serve as a mentor for the PSBJ’s Mentoring Monday Event. But as I reminded my speed-mentoring partners: we’re all mentors to someone, whether we know it or not. With that in mind, take a look at what you would do differently to manage your sense of overwhelm—what’s the example you want to set for your colleagues, your kids, or your life partner? Let that idea of mentorship be a tool you use to keep your boundaries, manage your time, and live a life that feels less overwhelmed.