New Job Making You Crazy? Ask Madeleine

Businessman Work Hard And BusyDear Madeleine:

I have recently been transferred to be the principal of a college. I am tasked with lecturing as well as ensuring that the curriculum is quality assured and that financial management and procurement systems are in place.  

My challenge is that I can’t find time enough to lead. When I came, I found nothing in place. I spend my days literally fighting fires ‎and troubleshooting.

I need some structure so that I can have meaningful time to get to know my colleagues as well as the students. Please advise how to deal with the madness that is my work. Once I get a grip on things, this is going to be the most rewarding job for me.  —New at the Helm

Dear New,

There is so much good advice for folks just getting started that it fills a section at the bookstore. But I am going to do us both a favor and start with some small, doable steps that will help you manage how overwhelmed you feel.

Get the Noise Out of Your Head

This first step is to create a mind map of everything you think you should be doing and all the people who need your attention.

Mind Map ExampleStart by placing yourself in the center of the map and then create a bucket for each area that needs your attention.

Make sure to include each important person who reports to you. Each bucket will have actions attached to them. Jot down all of the actions around each bucket until everything you should be doing is somewhere on your map.

Your map will look messy and disorganized. This is expected. The point is to get the noise out of your head and onto a piece of paper.

Do, Delegate, Defer, or Dump

Once you have everything on your map, it’s time to prioritize. Start with items that are most critical and apply the Do, Delegate, Defer, or Dump approach. Resolve that for each item you will either:

  • Do it—put it on the calendar for you to do
  • Delegate it—decide who you can delegate the task to and either write a note with the request and clear direction or put a meeting on the calendar to discuss it with them
  • Defer it—decide the task is not a priority at this time and leave it on the mind map to revisit next month, next quarter, or next year
  • Dump it—determine the item is simply not important enough and that it is coming off your list 

Plan and Review Each Day

Schedule surviving tasks on a calendar as if your life depended on it—certainly your sanity does. Make sure you schedule one to-do item and one 15-minute meeting with a teacher or a student into each day. Also be sure to take 15 minutes every morning to review your day. Taking 15 minutes will calm your brain and keep you focused. It will also help you make better decisions about when to switch your focus to something pressing, or finish what you are doing and then attend to what’s needed. 

If you start feeling overwhelmed again, make another mind map and begin the whole process over. I have found that some clients need to go through this process twice a year or more, while others only need it during big transitions.

The key to getting a grip on things is to first make a plan. Keep telling yourself “First things first,” and keep breathing deeply. Then break down the steps and do one or two small things a day (in between firefighting and teaching) until things begin to feel more even-keeled.

Good luck with the new job and keep me posted on how things are going.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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