To best address this challenge experienced by so many Humans at Work™, I’m deviating from my every-other-week format by sharing one typical client conversation in four weeks’ time. Last week we focused on Step 1: Organize. This week we review Step 2: Communicate, where I’ll outline three conversations that can help leaders better define priorities and possible outcomes.


Dear Dr. Graham:

Thank you for your ideas on organizing/planning/prioritizing. What you said about how our brains are designed to process information, rather than store information, makes sense. I also reviewed David Allen’s online resource on “Getting Things Done.” And I’m figuring out where I can devote only 80 percent of my effort, as you suggested. I do tend to be a perfectionist.

Now my overwhelming to-do list is organized and prioritized, but I’ve still got too much to do. I’m ready for the next step.

Overwhelmed manager

Dear Overwhelmed,

I’m glad you found last week’s information helpful. The next step in this process is to initiate three question-based conversations. I’ve found that many people, for whatever reason, feel they don’t have the right or the power to ask questions when asked to do something. However, at some point leaders must make a mindset shift. They must recognize that, at least to some extent, they’re in charge of what’s on their plates. Here are three conversations that can be helpful when you and your team are overwhelmed:

  1. Initiate the first conversation by simply asking, “When do you need this?” We tend to assume people need a task done right away. Often that’s not the case.
  1. You should initiate the second question-based conversation when you’ve received too many simultaneous assignments. When a colleague makes a request with an immediate deadline, you could say, “I’m happy to work on this. However, we’re already working on A for you. We can’t do A and B at the same time. Which is more important to you?” Or you might ask your boss, “Jane, do you have five minutes to look over what’s on my plate and help me determine what’s most important?”
  1. You’ll need to initiate the third conversation if you’re told everything is of equal importance. That’s when you give Jane or your colleague the heads-up that although you’ll continue to do your very best, you’re worried something will fall through the cracks if you attempt to “do it all.” There’s power in making that prediction because when your prediction comes true, you can remind Jane/your colleague that you were worried this would happen, and that you’ll need to work together to keep it from happening again. When leaders initiate that third conversation they are less likely to be viewed as weak and more likely to be viewed as someone skilled at analyzing tasks, predicting outcomes and preventing problems.

I’ll look forward to your feedback next week. Meanwhile, please encourage your team to join my Facebook groupLead At A Higher Level, to review the short June 14 video in which Dr. Julie McDonald and I introduced this concept.

Next week we’ll cover Step 3: Choose Your Sacrifice.

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