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Similar questions: What to do when different project managers insisting that I must work on their requests immediately? and Constantly pulled onto different tasks/projects, becoming exhausted

Differences: I’m not a developer. I don’t do overtimes (if I work extra hours, I have to compensate them in the same month). Managers of different projects can’t agree between themselves on whose task is more important (predominantly because they are not in the same office).

Backround

I was hired by a company as a part-timer for project A. I was promised a full-time position as soon as the project size increases, which was supposed to happen in a few months. However it never did and since there wasn’t enough work for me as a full-timer, I started to look for other jobs. At that time, the company was looking for part-timers for project B and project C and they offered the positions to me. So now I’m a full-timer who works as three part-timers on three totally different projects. I’m supposed to allocate 25 % of my time to A, 25 % to B and 50 % to C. My line manager leads project D and she assigned me to help her with activity D1 (most likely because I sit close to her team). LM also assigns me to help other people with their projects from time to time.

Issues

Projects have different deadlines and requirements. Project A has deadline in the middle of a month, activity D1 needs to be done at the end of a month, other projects don’t have fixed (monthly) deadlines, tasks have various extents and can come anytime from different sources (from my office, from other offices inside or outside my country). They often do and I feel overwhelmed by them. Then I feel guilty because I can’t help everybody. I theoretically know which project is more important and LM says I can adjust allocated percentages when needed (but she is not happy when I increase percentage for project B).

I’m under this LM because when I started working for the company, I didn’t fit into any other team (even though I might be doing some tasks for them now). There’s also other thing – she’s going on maternity leave soon and has already found a new manager for team D but not for me (I can’t be under the new person). I feel like I don't belong anywhere.

My questions

How can I learn to prioritize my tasks? How to postpone less important tasks without feeling guilty and stressed by the people who assigned them?

  • Hey there @UnicornsCanFly I think that you may be able to get better answers on Personal Productivity SE , as your questions seem to be purely about productivity and not much about Navigating the Workplace. Good luck. – DarkCygnus Nov 23 '17 at 23:20
  • Is that LM your boss? Do you have a boss you report to? Is it the same person as the LM? – DarkCygnus Nov 23 '17 at 23:50
  • @DarkCygnus After I wrote this post I realized that it might not belong here but I didn't know where else should I post it (I'm new to StackExchange). And yes, the LM is my boss I report to. – UnicornsCanFly Nov 24 '17 at 20:39
8

How can I learn to prioritize my tasks? How to postpone less important tasks without feeling guilty and stressed by the people who assigned them?

You should use your boss to help triage and prioritize your tasks.

You can also have your boss help filter requests and perhaps divert them to others if appropriate.

As this happens, you'll gradually learn how to do some of that yourself. And you'll learn what you have permission to do on your own and what you need boss intervention.

If your line manager/boss is leaving, ask her who to turn to in her absence. There must be someone who will be your boss during this time.

  • I agree with consulting with the manager, as it is their job to manage and prioritize. However OP indicated that "Managers of different projects can’t agree between themselves on whose task is more important (predominantly because they are not in the same office)." ... so seems that OP already tried asking boss about this unsuccessfully. – DarkCygnus Nov 23 '17 at 23:37
  • True, however, I suspect that OP's boss is that Lead Manager (LM) - "I’m under this LM because...". Going to ask for clarification from OP – DarkCygnus Nov 23 '17 at 23:50
  • Yes, if you can't organise your tasks yourself, then you take the problem up the line. Even if they fail to act appropriately, it is their fault, not yours if you document it. – Kilisi Nov 24 '17 at 3:59
4

If you're supposed to allocate 25 % of your time to project A, 25 % to project B and 50 % to project C, why are you prioritizing among the projects? That's 10 hours/week for A, 10 hours/week for B, and 20 hours/week for C. Never change this on your own authority.

The only question is one of scheduling, not priority: over what days should you distribute those 10, 10, and 20 hours? Make a schedule and stick strictly to it, regardless of the individual projects' importance, deadlines, or requirements.

Negotiate this weekly schedule with all three project managers. Should you work 2 hours, 2 hours, and 4 hours every day? Or is it more efficient to aggregate the hours into larger clumps? Once you have a schedule, depart from it only by special negotiation, and only in a way that maintains the allocation balance.

For example, 2 extra hours for A on Monday means 2 fewer hours for A later in the week. If any project leader wants to borrow from another project's allocation, both project leaders must be involved in the discussion.

Since your LM is not strictly scheduling your hours, you must do it. This makes you the primary arbiter of how your time is divided among the three projects. Since you are responsible for dividing your time, just go ahead and arrogate the authority for dividing your time.

The most important thing you can do for your own mental health is to recognize that the individual project PMs quite naturally and quite legitimately want as much of your time as they can get. So when you have to refuse one of them, you are not condemning him for asking. You're just saying how it is.

The other thing you must do to remain sane is, whenever you are working on project A, project B and project C are not your responsibility. In principle, if project B goes down the drain during your project C time, too bad for them. They should have planned the use of your time more carefully. If you want to violate this principle and distort your schedule to mitigate an emergency, that's you doing them a favor, not part of your job.

Of course if such a strict schedule seems to restrictive, you'll need a more sophisticated algorithm. However, it's probably most useful to think of any other distribution of your time in terms of a modification of the 10, 10, 20 hour allocation. The important thing is to have a basis on which to refuse take on additional tasks.

Finally, I think you'll be a lot happier if you think of the three project leaders as your clients, not your bosses. As far as your company and your LM are concerned, you're an employee, but as far as the three projects are concerned, you're a contractor.

2

How can I learn to prioritize my tasks? How to postpone less important tasks without feeling guilty and stressed by the people who assigned them?

I follow this algorithm to prioritize which tasks I should face first. Usually you should consult with your boss about priorities, but if that falls to you then you could try the following:


  1. List all the tasks to be done
  2. Determine some variables or features of those tasks that will help you prioritize (in some range like 0-10). For example you can chose due date, complexity, experience on the subject, level of importance of task (critical, not so critical, etc.).
  3. For each task:

    3.1 Determine the value of each of the variables, for example one task may end with values 5 (mid-term due date), 3 (not so complex task), 9 (almost expert on the subject), 7 (important task).

    3.2 Obtain the sum of those variables, adding and subtracting them according to the nature of the variable. Following the example, this may end like: 5 + 3 - 9 + 7 = 6, which is the "relevance" of that task for you.

  4. You can then select the tasks with higher values and start with them.


With this, you can chose a few critical tasks (2-3) and work on them simultaneously, or just take it one at a time depending what you consider best.

Now, the guilty and stressed part is something you should try to work out, and learn to work under pressure. Without feedback or indications of priorities from your boss you have a tough situation here, so no need to feel guilty about it given you try your best to prioritize.

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