Est reading time: 6 minutes, 23 seconds

A situation that I’ve encountered frequently when working in SEO is being confronted with more tasks and projects that demand attention than I physically have time to dedicate to them. This isn’t necessarily specific to any one role either, I’ve encountered it when being a link developer and a team leader as well as when I’ve been responsible for project management and account management, although it does tend to be amplified the more responsibility you have. This makes sense – when you’re in roles of greater responsibility your tasks are generally more crucial and your workload is less prescriptive and more changeable.

Of course, this isn’t a problem exclusive to SEO project management, it’s a common conundrum across most businesses and any situation where you have a number of tasks and a finite amount of time to complete them. It’s also rarely something that you can avoid ever happening through advanced planning. You can certainly mitigate the risk and minimise the potential for it to occur with good planning and proactive work ethics but there will always be factors outside of your control which result in critical tasks clustering together and unexpected tasks suddenly appearing on your to-do lists that weren’t originally accounted for.

The danger here is of tasks running over deadline which may result in missed opportunities, disappointed clients or terminal knock-on effects of a wider project, so it’s important to know how to effectively deal with the situation when it arises.

So what do you do when you’re faced with more to-dos than you can complete? As it’s something I’ve frequently encountered, I’ve developed some simple rules for dealing with the situation when it does arise and when I’m over-subscribed with tasks I employ three tactics for prioritising and dealing with them which are Delegate, Relegate and Communicate.

Delegate

What tasks can be delegated to someone else with the time to complete them?

This might not always seem like a viable option, especially if you don’t have any report-tos who you can delegate tasks down to. You should, however, remember when considering this option that delegating doesn’t have to mean passing tasks down the chain of command. You could equally delegate tasks to a colleague at the same level as you, possibly even in a different department – you would of course have to ask this as a favour but even if you are delegating downwards it’s good to pose it as a request for a favour as it will often be you asking someone to help with your work on tasks that may be outside the scope of their responsibilities.

Equally, you may be able to delegate the task up. Your line manager and other senior members of staff with a stake in the project will not want to see it fail and they may be able to help with certain tasks if you go to them early and explain the situation.

If you are delegating tasks, make sure you delegate the right tasks. Delegate tasks based on people’s strengths; ideally you should delegate tasks to people who would be able to complete them more quickly than you normally would. Delegate easier tasks down and more difficult tasks or those requiring expert knowledge either up or sideways to colleagues either in your department or in another department whose specialisation makes them a good fit for the task.

In extreme cases you may even consider delegating tasks outside of the company, although you should remember that it may take more time to brief an outsourced agent than it might take to just do the task yourself.

Relegate

What tasks can you put on the backburner?

Typically, any client deliverable is always going to be seen as immutably urgent simply because it’s a client deliverable with a deadline, but is this really always the case? Consider each task and deliverable and judge it’s importance and urgency. You can classify tasks across an Importance/Urgency matrix to determine how critical each task really is as seen in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and explained in this article from Lifehacker. In a nutshell, you’re determining what tasks are important and urgent, which are not urgent but important, which are urgent but not important and which are neither urgent nor important.

  • The important and urgent tasks are the ones that are going to take priority, there’s no escaping them they’re mission critical and have to be doneĀ right now.
  • The Not Urgent but Important tasks can be relegated. Although it’s important that they get done, they don’t need to be done right now in order to still be effective so they can be postponed until later (although not indefinitely).
  • The urgent but not important tasks can probably be relegated. Sometimes some tasks seem very urgent – perhaps it’s something that a client has requested ASAP, or perhaps it’s an opportunity with a finite window – but may not be that important, at least in comparison to other tasks.
  • The not urgent and not important tasks can almost always be relegated. These are often fringe tasks and deliverables that may be part of your overall service agreement but which aren’t critical to the client’s success and don’t rely on a specific deadline or timeline to be of use.

You should assess your to-dos relative to one another. Assessed independently all tasks are urgent and important, otherwise why would they be on your to-do list to begin with (assuming you aren’t selling your clients lemon services and proposal padding)? But compared to one another you can usually start to make some distinctions. Maybe a monthly report that is due today can be held off until tomorrow, maybe some tasks are more important to the client than others and will take precedence when there is no other option. Relegate the tasks which can be safely postponed to make time for the genuinely crucial, must get done right now tasks.

Two important final points on relegating:

Remember that non-urgent tasks relegated today may become urgent tasks tomorrow by virtue of their earlier relegation. Be prepared for that. Even non-urgent, not important tasks may eventually promote themselves to urgent due to being constantly relegated and important simply because you told the client that they would be done.

Secondly, always ensure that stakeholders are ok with tasks on their projects being relegated, which leads on to the final and perhaps most important rule:

Communicate

Whether you’re responsible for managing a large project or account or just responsible for managing your own workflow, when you start to get overwhelmed with tasks you need to start communicating the situation immediately.

Communicate to your line managers and account handlers what is happening and make them aware that some tasks may not get completed on time.

Communicate with the client and adjust their expectations. If there are any problems, let them know that they are being addressed, if deliverables are going to be late let them know and why and the new deadline when they can expect to receive them. If they have specifically requested something be done and you want to relegate it, discuss with them why you think it can be relegated or what effect it would have on their other deliverables if this task was prioritised.

With few exceptions people will generally be happy with occasional delays, especially if it’s a result of unforeseen circumstances, so long as you communicate early and often when those circumstances arise and keep them abreast of the situation.