Many Things on a Plate…

When my kids were toddlers, it was hard to find things to feed them that they would eat and that were nutritious. Do you know what it’s like to spend time cooking a meal only to have others turn up their nose at it? If you’re a parent, you know this feeling. And then one day we stumbled upon a simple concept that changed meal time forever. Instead of cooking a big, balanced meal in hopes that the kids would eat, we started fixing meals that we called many-things-on-a-plate.

Many-things-on-a-plate could include things like a few baby carrots, a couple of slices of apple, a meat ball, a couple of crackers. The idea was to provide things from each food group in balance.

After a few times trying this, we learned that it was foolish to pile too many things on the plate. Too much food, and the kids would be overwhelmed. They’d eat one thing and not the others. But over time, we learned that by spreading out the foods so the plate had plenty of white space, the kids would usually eat everything and want seconds. This cut down on wasted food and ensured that the kids were eating properly.

At work, conventional management wisdom says, If you give someone too much work, they will get overwhelmed and discouraged. And they will fail. Unconventional wisdom says this: If you want something done well, give it to a busy person.

Both points of view have merit. But I think the key to finding someone who can do a job well and to completion is to find someone who has learned to prioritize. Some employees are cherry-pickers, keeping their workloads light so they can attempt to pick and choose the assignments that they like. Others don’t know how to say NO. But a rare few know how to prioritize whatever they’ve been given without succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent.

Which kind of employee are you? If you wish to become indispensable, understand what things are essential to complete, and focus on those items. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Don’t say YES just to say YES. Don’t believe that you can select from a menu of tasks and just pick out the ones you like. Rather, understand the priorities of your boss, your organization, and your customers, and let that determine where your time is spent.

Now get back to work….

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