How can future pacing the term ahead help us to create greater levels of sustainability in our workflow? In this episode Simon outlines a simple routine individuals and teams can use in order to anticipate their future workload demands, identify pinch points and then creatively explore how to reduce the peaks of demand. Workload mapping can be completed in just 5-10 minutes. A simple tool that can reduce future stress and enhance effectiveness.
Hey, it’s Simon. And in this episode, I want to explore a really practical strategy I use in my coaching with teams and leaders that helps us really start to map out the workload demand that are going to be placed on us in the future and give ourselves a possibility at least, of making some adjustments now to try to smooth out some of the really demanding weeks that are ahead and maybe also lift up and put a little bit more challenge around some of the weeks that look more manageable. I call this workload mapping.
I find regularly, when we get into a new term or get into a new quarter, we’ll have a hazy view about having things on the horizon that might be coming at us. And we know, “Oh, there’s going to be some busy periods and there’re going to be some demands.” We might have one or two key dates sticking out at our mind. But very regularly we just have a hazy sense of what’s happening in the future. And what that means is when we hit a really challenging week, what I call a pinch point, often things can fall over. Often we can ask too much of ourselves in a way that’s not going to be sustainable and it’s going to take us quite a while to recover. And indeed we might actually drop some of the things that really matter.
So workload mapping is a really practical strategy where wherever possible, towards the end of a term or a quarter we pause, either individually, with a partnership or maybe is across a team. We start to pull out our calendars and we work through our individual workload demands for each of the weeks coming up.
So perhaps we’re thinking about eight to 10 weeks in front. All of us pull out our calendars and we begin to work through each of those weeks and make a subjective judgement about the overall load on us in our work for that week, or at least what we can predict from what we know at the moment. I like to use a simple four point rating here of one being very low load being placed, two, moderate, three getting quite high, and four is quite an extreme load.
And what you do is you walk through and you say, “Okay, this week, week one, what does it look like the load will be in my role in my work?” Then I rate it zero, one, two, three or four. And then week two, and then week three, and then week four, and then week five. And you’re making a subjective relative judgement and just writing it down on a piece of paper. Week one’s this, week two’s this, week three is this, week four is this. And you’re doing this as you click through your digital calendar or perhaps any other documentation that s represents certain timelines and milestones and things that are going to be delivered.
And if you do this individually, can be really powerful. Even more so if members of a team all do it for their own individual workload, but then can have a open and shared dialogue with each other about the times in the coming term where they’ve identified some pinch points, or some real peaks of the load demand on them. At other points, they might be able to identify some areas where the load is more moderate or even lower. And I’m not saying necessarily that the goal there is to fill those up. Indeed, those periods of a term or a quarter that are less demanding aren’t having you run at full rate. These will often be good to identify because seasonally in that term, they’re going to be the times where we might be able to pull things back in place, get our systems back in order, maybe do some more front foot thinking, front foot time in classrooms.
But this idea of load mapping and then future pacing, what’s going to be asked of us over the next eight to 10 weeks or over the next quarter, is a really powerful way of being very clear about the ebbs and flows of what we are about to experience. Now if you do start to do this work, you will identify some predictable pinch points on the horizon. Rather than ignoring these, it’s often good in your future pacing to think about what it’s going to be like to experience that week and then ask the question, “Is there anything we can do now to smooth out some of the peaks there of those demands?”
Obviously if we push too hard, it’s very unlikely we’re going to do good quality work. It’s possible that certain things are going to drop away, or no matter what we’re going to ask more of ourselves then we can recover from easily, and therefore we’re going to have an exhaustion hangover and a performance hangover into the weeks that follow after that pinch point. So wherever possible, it’s useful to individually think about actions you could take now that might spread out those demands across other weeks. Perhaps collectively by doing this as a group and talking about over the coming term or over coming quarter the identified pinch points in your roles and in your roles and responsibilities and accountabilities, the best performing teams will actually then have a conversation about, “Are there opportunities to step in and support, to take something off a certain person at a certain time to try to smooth out some of those peaks?”
It’s quite typical for committed and intentional school leaders, system leaders to get started in the term that they know is going to be full on. They know it’s going to ask a lot of them, but they actually have a very hazy and blurry view about when the most intense periods are coming. And when they get hit by them, often that has a detrimental impact on their own wellbeing and on the quality of their work.
I’ve found it’s much better to workload map out what’s expected coming up and then to future pace by using your imagination to walk through those weeks to identify the challenging points and then to consider what you could do now to smooth out some of those pinch points, to smooth out some of the peaks and to have a more sustainable approach to work.
So why don’t you have a go of workload mapping and take the five minutes to future pace your coming term or quarter, identify the predictable pinch points, and then take action individually or even better, as a team to smooth out some of those demands to try to be able to sustain a regular and ongoing cadence of improvement. Future pace the demands of your work, and gain new insights about what you can do now to smooth out those predictable pinch points.
Let me know how you go using this simple tool in your own work and whether you unlock some new insights and make some decisions that make your work more sustainable, and over time, more impactful.