Last week, I conducted a workshop for a team of healthcare professionals as they kicked off a new fiscal year. Prior to the workshop, I had the attendees complete a survey about their work: what was going well and where they encountered challenges.

Not surprisingly, a few very common themes emerged, which we addressed during our time together. The big three included the size of their workloads, the poor quality of communication, and the difficulty of working with others unlike themselves.

Who can’t relate to those workplace challenges?

As we worked through each topic, the discussion certainly provided tools to help them resolve the issues we identified.

However, I also realized that if they took proactive steps every day to prevent those issues, they could alleviate a lot of their daily job stress. Bonus: Future meetings could focus on exploring more innovative and creative concepts.

To that end, here are three measures you can use in your work each day to stay ahead of the challenges that bog down many teams. As you read, consider how, if you looked at these three key performance indicators each day, your work life might transform.

1. Percent of Time You Spend on Your Three Critical Priorities

Nearly every client I see struggles with an oversized workload. However, when we take the time to really break down the work, it usually involves a lot of wasted time and energy. Work avoidance, procrastination, multi-tasking, and distractions all sidetrack essential work, add stress, and make any workload seem bigger than it is.

If you are workload-challenged, here’s an exercise to complete each day: Put two columns on a page. On the left, record your three to five biggest, most important, most performance-influencing priorities—you know, the ones that are going to show up on your year-end review, get you a raise, and make the department score a touchdown.

On the right side, each day, keep track of the work you actually do and the amount of time each task takes. Then, track the percentage of time you’re spending on your most important priorities versus everything else.

What do you notice?

If there’s a gap between your most important priorities and what you spend your time on, you’re likely suffering from workload inflation. You’re working on lots of tasks and staying late, but not getting the most important stuff done.

On the other hand, if you’re giving your priorities the right amount of attention and leaving the less critical work until later (or undone, if that’s what it takes), your workload will seem more realistic. Bonus: You’ll feel much more focused and accomplished in the process.

Here’s another tip: As a manager, if someone came to me saying his or her workload was too big, I’d want to see this analysis before any further conversation. Before you take your workload issues to your manager, be sure you have the facts about what’s really driving its size.

2. Percent of Your Communication That’s Tailored to Your Listener’s Style

Ah, communication. I love the quote from George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” How right is that?

Poor communication between and among team members (and bosses) gums up the works and makes everything harder.

Though there are many reasons for this, there’s one major cause that came up in the workshop, and it’s one that I see frequently: When communicating, you often think more about what you have to say, rather than how the other person needs to hear it.

Let me give you an example. All of us have different strengths, work styles, and personalities. I tend to be a driver, which means I have a very direct, straight-to-the-point communication style. At times in my career, I’ve been told I was “intimidating” or “unapproachable.” Hard to believe, I know—I never considered myself to be either. But my audience did, and that’s all that mattered.

In response, I learned to tailor my communication style and content to my audience. So, if my target is someone who’s very relationship driven and concerned with the social aspects of rapport-building at work, my direct, to-the-point style may feel intimidating or overwhelming.

By adjusting my approach—delivering the same message, but slower, with more social grace and a focus on tending to the relationship with that person—that person can better hear me. Then, they actually listen, instead of feeling intimidated and growing defensive.

You will communicate more effectively when you keep your audience’s needs in mind. Look at the different communication styles in your workplace and see how you can reframe your messages so that others will better receive what you’re saying.

Remember, it’s not your audience’s job to interpret your message. It’s your job to communicate in a way your audience will understand.

3. Actions You’ve Taken to Nurture Relationships in Your Workplace

Let’s face it: The way work gets done today is through the relationships you have with those around you. When you don’t have strong relationships, your work will suffer.

Weak workplace relationships create a negative environment. Think about it: Are you likely to go to bat for someone you don’t really care that much for? What will morale be like if there are weak or indifferent relationships in the office? Will you enjoy going to work as much?

Our workshop attendees strained under the challenges of coming from different departments, different cultures, and different generations. In the workplace, you can easily choose to let those qualities divide you. Or, you can work toward overcoming those divides by intentionally creating and nurturing relationships with those who aren’t like you. There are many ways to build rapport with others—and it doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming.

For example, make it a point to meet one person for coffee each week, or to sit with a different group at lunch. Compliment others (authentically) on the work they do; send notes of appreciation when warranted.

And if you sense conflict between yourself and another co-worker, don’t avoid it (and stress out about it as a result)—invite him or her into a conversation to discuss and resolve your differences. Taking action to nurture relationships strengthens your ties with the team and boosts your own self-confidence, as well.

Now, you’re equipped to assess your workday through a very new lens. If you can focus on priorities, the effectiveness of your communication, and the quality of your relationships, you’re going to have amazing results.

Photo of rulers courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020