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How to stop drowning in work

Managing expectations is a key skill of effective leaders.

When you become a manager or leader, you are often fielding requests from all sides.

  • Your boss needs things.

  • Your team needs things.

  • Your peers need things.

Prioritization is imperative to managing your work for your own mental health as well as to be successful in your role. But prioritizing at your desk by yourself will leave you drowning in work.

Over-promised and now under-delivering.

How to set yourself up for success Effective prioritization starts in the conversations that you have about each of these requests. You should never leave a meeting with a task or project without doing the following:

  1. Ask for their expectations

  2. Timeframe

  3. Level of research

  4. Priority level

  5. Etc.

  6. Set your expectations

  7. Timeframe

  8. Other priorities

  9. Blockers

  10. Etc.

  11. Manage expectations if things derail

  12. Updates on blockers

  13. Priority shifts

  14. Changes to the timeline

  15. Etc.

What does this look like in practice? Assumptions are what degrade working relationships.

Your co-worker assumes you will do it right now for them. + You assume you can do it whenever you can get to it. = Misalignment

and ultimately stress for both of you. Getting to these answers requires direct questions and responses. These can feel uncomfortable for some. Start practicing with these questions and responses.


  • When do you need this?

  • What level of effort do you expect?

  • Will this be shared with anyone other than you?

  • How high of a priority is this for you?


  • I have other priorities right now. I won't be able to work on that until (insert timeframe).

  • I need to check with the team before I can provide an ETA.

  • I will have this to you by the end of day Friday.

  • I need to speak with my boss about shifting priorities in order to make room for this.

Be clear about things that will impact the ability to do the work or meet about the work. It is OK to have time off. Remember that :) → I have the day off on Friday, so I won't be available.

Tips for success:

  • Do this for everything! If you collaborate with other people, setting a good example will help others to do the same. Especially if you ensure that you have this conversation when asking things of others.

  • Be realistic. Nothing is worse than someone committing to a deadline that they never could meet. State the truth for when you believe it can be done. Add in a buffer just in case you have underestimated the work.

  • There is always room for negotiation. If your timeframe doesn’t meet the needs of the other person, that’s ok. Discuss it. If you have the ability to shift priorities, communicate that you will need to do that and circle back with others before officially committing to that timeframe.

Wishing you less stress and a happier working environment!

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