Don’t try to DO all the work

I was recently looking at my book RISE on my kindle to see what people were responding to, by checking out the “view popular highlights” feature.

The most highlighted passage was:

Think of your job as figuring out a better way to deal with all this stuff than it is to DO all this stuff and you’ll be on the right track.

I wanted to expand on this a bit, as it is such a key concept.

The key to success is not to try and do everything and die trying. The trick is to figure out how to deal with an overwhelming workload, and give yourself a fighting chance to get the most important stuff done.

Change the work into better stuff

Another popular highlight:

Your job is not to deliver work when everything lines up to support you. Your job is to get the most important stuff done despite everything that lines up to kill you.

It’s important to remember that the most successful people were not less busy and less hassled along the way. They were as busy and challenged as the rest of us, but found a way to deal with it.

I wanted to share a specific tactic that I have used for years which helps get on top of the overwhelming workload, so you can get the most important things done.

There are two key ideas:

  • Catch vs. DO
  • Make a Catch List

Catch vs. DO

This is an important mind shift. You have to CATCH all the work, but not necessarily DO all the work.

You can’t let requests and tasks just drop. But that doesn’t mean you have do do everything exactly as it comes in. The way to not drop something is to catch it by making a list — your “Catch List”.

The Catch List

Record every single thing that is asked of you: Who asked, what they asked for, when they need it.

After a few weeks or a couple of months, this list will give you great power. Here’s what happens:


Maintaining this list shows you have caught everything. Anytime someone says, “What about my thing?”, you pull out the list. You show them that their thing is #47. It’s right there on the list. You’ll be surprised how much credibility you’ll gain just showing people the list, and being able to point to their thing and show you haven’t dropped it. (This works even with your boss.)


Looking at the list let’s you judge if it’s doable or crazy: It’s hard to know this for sure when it all just piles up in your head. Facing the dragon head on, by seeing the whole list in one place makes a big difference to your state of mind about the work.


The list can be used as a conversation document: The list becomes a great communication tool to talk with the people who are asking for things. People have a tendency to think that they have access to 100% of your time. When you show them the list, (maybe color coded by the 8 people who ask you for things), they see their thing in context of everything you have been asked to do by all the other people. You get even more credibility for managing such a vast work load, and they will tend become more reasonable with their requests when they see them in context.

People forget and change their mind: Not all requests are created equal. When you remind people of all the things they have asked for, they tend to either get a little embarrassed at the sheer number, forgot what they asked for, or start scratching things off the list they don’t care about any more. Having and showing the list can automatically reduce your workload. (This also happens with your boss.)


See the big picture: Having everything on the list right in front of you will allow you do to a frank assessment of how many things on the list are:

  • Critical things
  • Stupid things
  • Duplicate requests
  • Surprises
  • Emergencies

This is really where the magic happens.

Think and decide first: Knowing how many things fall into each of these categories is how you can begin to find a way to deal with all the stuff on the list, instead of just jumping in and trying do it all exactly as it comes across the table without thinking about it.

Deal with it

Plan and prioritize: Once you work though the list and think about it, you have given yourself the opportunity to strategize how to prioritize and negotiatiate. You can also find opportunities for consolidation, process improvement, prioritization, and negotiation.

Think about your job as sifting through all this work to find what is most important to do, and in what order, and to determine what can be delayed, improved or eliminated.

Always think before you work

Remember, your manager is delegating the thinking about the work, not just the work.

You are adding more value and doing a better job if you do the leg work of thinking through it all and making recommendations to your boss and stakeholders about the best way forward.

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About Patty
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.


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Help! I’m a Work-horse and I’m stuck

help Im a workhorseI recently received some input from a reader that defined the perfect storm of being stuck in the workhorse trap. Here it is…

“I’m the workhorse for our volunteer emergency communicator group. There are 4 of us, but here lately I’ve been the only one answering the calls from the City for severe weather (tornadoes, severe hailstorms, etc.) even in the middle of the night. Problem is, by the time the City gets to me, they’ve already tried the other members with no luck. I’ve said something, but so far no results.

Since lives and property may be at stake, I feel it’s important to have someone doing the job. So, I do it—

But I say something to the rest of the group every time since the 5th time in a 3 day period– now, it’s been 13 times in a week that we’ve been called and I’m the only one who would answer the call. Okay one guy had surgery twice this week, first on his eye and again on his foot so he gets a pass. But the other 2? One is a definite flake and the other… well, I really don’t know.

I’m tired, and we still have more shots at being called again in the next 2 days. I feel bad saying “NO, SORRY– I can’t” when it’s the City Office of Emergency Management or the National Weather Service, but I might just have to, and tell them that I’m exhausted. After all, we’re VOLUNTEERS!

First, let’s look at the situation

1. THANK YOU. The world is a better place because of people like you that are willing to make personal sacrifice and step up when others need them.

2. Many people in their jobs feel like this. They feel they are the only one capable or available to the work. The work must get done, so they do it. Even though lives are typically not at stake, their values won’t let them drop the work.

3. In your case, lives are actually at stake! Truly, the work must get done.

4. Because you are all volunteers, there is no official way to insist that people do the work.

5. You have tried to raise the issue to get the rest of the team to step up to no avail – so you are stuck being the workhorse.

What can be done?

The first point to remember is that even if you can order people around, you are much better off if you can persuade them to be emotionally committed to doing the work. This makes everything better.

Second, it’s important to note that when I talk about getting out of workhorse mode, it is never about abandoning the work. The trick is to figure out how to get the critical work done without doing it all personally.

Sure, sometimes you need to work 24X7 when there is a crisis, a deadline, a big opportunity. The problem arises when that becomes a steady-state way of working.

If you want to get out of work-horse mode, don’t expect your manager to make it better.

YOU need to be the one to invent a new approach to make it better.

Stick to your instincts that this is not right. Devise a plan to change it.

Here are some suggestions to improve the situation:

Your desired outcome:  Have other people to share the workload with.

There are two basic ways to achieve that outcome.

1. Get the people on the team to step up
2. Get new people

Get People on the Team to Step Up

1. Record the data about what has happened. Data is not opinion or emotion. It can’t be argued with. Keep a record of all the phone calls that were made and what the response was from each team member.

Call a meeting of the whole team and share the data. Ask everyone to comment on it.

2. Discuss the team’s desired outcome. What does successful service look like? What will it require? Ask everyone to contribute to the definition of the process and the required commitment and responsibility.

Be really clear what the responsibilities are. Ask everyone on the team to talk about their ability to respond to their share of responsibilities.

3. Create an actual calendar for who is on call each day. Set an expectation that if you commit to be on call that you WILL ANSWER. Have everyone sign off on the schedule as a group commitment to one another.

4. Be super clear that there are only two choices, sign and commit or leave the group. There is no room for broken commitments when it is a matter of life or death.

If you are afraid of losing people on the team by doing this, remember that the people who are NOT answering the phone on a regular basis are not part of the team anyway. (They shouldn’t get to talk big and pretend they are a volunteer if they don’t do the work.)

They are not helping. Ask them to leave. Get new people who will be committed members of the team.

Get new people

A critical factor of getting out of workhorse mode is making sure that you have a team that is capable of doing the job.

No matter how vital the work is, staying in work-horse mode long term is the wrong answer.

You need to take it upon yourself to create a team or a process that can get the work done that really matters, without burning up your time personally.

If your current team can’t cut it, you have to change the team.

If you are an individual, you need to influence. You need re-negotiate the work to focus on the most critical outcomes, and recommend a new, better process that achieves the desired outcome in a different way.

In any organization, volunteer or business, people get burned out, leave, or have other priorities come up in life. It is important that you are always cultivating a pipeline of new people that can (and want to do) the job.

When you look at the people who are not performing, decide “Can’t or Won’t”.

Can’t you can work with, Won’t is not worth the trouble.

Cut them loose. Get people who are motivated to help. That will be your only way out of workhorse mode long term whether you are in a group of volunteers or leading a business team.

Also, there are lots more ideas about workhorse traps and escape routes in Chapter 3 of my book, Rise… They Shoot Workhorses, Don’t they?

What do you think?

IF you have any other ideas for this generous and tired emergency response volunteer, please share them!

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How to kill your new hires

work-horseI often talk about the hazard of being work-horse.

Are you a work-horse?

If you are known for always getting a lot of work done and for being able to do an extraordinary amount of work personally, it is likely you are a work-horse.

Many people think this is a good way of standing out and being valued — showing you are always really busy and getting stuff done.

The harsh reality is that while you may be valued,  you are being valued as a work-horse. Your reward is, well… more work.

You’ll get stuck

Why would anyone promote you and lose their work-horse?

If you are stuck in this mode of working in general, read my book. You’ll save years of frustration.

A specific work-horse hazard – preventing hires

But today I want to talk about one specific hazard of owning all the work personally – preventing your ability to fill open roles.

Every manager has faced the challenge where you get a job opening approved, and then it gets put on hold.

You put a TBH (to be hired) on your org chart, and start recruiting, only to find that there has been a hiring freeze and you are not actually able to fill the role.

When this happens it’s not that roles can’t still get filled, it’s just that they require special addition approvals, silver bullets, and management capital to make happen.

Don’t cover the work so well!

When a manager who has a work-horse tendency is faced with this, the temptantion is to accept the freeze, and cover the work.

You are responsible, so until this person shows up you need to make sure the work gets done. So you work eveneings and weekends to do this person’s work so that the results don’t slip.

The problem is that by coming to the rescue, you are proving to your management that you don’t really need this hire after all.

Prove THEY need the hire

To get the position re-approved.

1. Articulate the critical business impact this position will have.
2. Don’t get it all done flawlessly without them.

Granted, there is a bit of finesse required. You don’t want to create a business failure.

But instead of just doing the work, think about telling your manager something like:

  • Until we get this person hired, I can’t delver on your other favorite project because I am covering this work.
  • Forgive the lower quality of this deliverable, but we have not yet hired the expert we agreed we need to do this.
  • I need to talk with you about re-assigning the work among my team until this hire gets approved.
  • Here is my suggestion to put a bandage on this part of the process until we can get the person in here to take it over.

Share the pain

You need to strategically move things around so that you don’t fail to deliver the critical things. You need to be seen as being proactive and getting important things done.

But, you need to make sure that  the pain of this missing person is felt , and the business value of them being there is personally understood by more than just you.

Motivate the people who can say YES to spend their capital on your hire.

You need to get the people who can say yes as motivated as you are to fill the job.

If you cover the work personally, they have no reason to spend their capital helping you fill a job that is already getting done.


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No one cares how hard you work



No one cares how hard you work.

… So make sure you are getting somewhere.

My goal for this blog is to provide useful insights and practical ideas so you can:

Step up  the value and relevance of your work to have a bigger impact on the business,  and a better career.

But I also wanted to make  this blog a guide you can refer back to when you wanted to read up on a particular topic.

The issue…

There was no easy way to find what you were looking for!

There used to be an “Archives” section in the left column which organized past content by date.

Alas, the date is irrelevant.  There are articles from 2 years ago that are just as relevant today as they were then.

Also, people kept asking me for links to collections of blog posts on specific topics that they wanted to brush up on.

So,  I have now organized all the blog posts based on topics !

Here’s how it works:

<– In the left column of the blog you will see a CATEGORIES section.
These are clickable.

All the prior articles are now sorted by these categories.

If you want to see all the articles on implementing your business strategy you can click on the Strategy Implementation category.

If you want all the articles about networking, you can click on Build Your Network category.

You get the idea…

Nuisance: After you scroll down through the articles in a category, you may need to click on “Older Entries” at the very bottom to make sure you see ALL the articles in the category.

Pass it on

If you enjoy my blog and get value out of it, please encourage your team and your colleagues to subscribe.

Have more impact

This blog supports my work in helping organizations to execute better, from the executive team to all all the employees across the organization.

The more people in your organization who take ownership for the outcomes I talk about in my blog, the stronger your organization will be,  and the more business value you will create.

And it’s still free.

Ways to get this blog:

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I recently passed a milestone of 100 blog posts, so I thought it was a good time to step back and assess how the blog was doing.

I hope you find the new organization of the blog to be useful.
Please leave a comment or give me your feedback about the blog.

Since the first post, the readership has grown from hundreds to thousands, so thank you!

I could do this all day…

Business is hard right now.   You need
to find a pace that you can maintain,
because it’s not likely to get easy soon.

I’m having so many discussions with
people who say things like:

We are missing our revenue plan. 
There is a lot of pressure on cost. 
We are re-evaluating our strategy.
I am not sure what my budget is.  We may have another layoff.  I can’t commit to my plans.  Things might change again.  We are expecting another re-org.  My key  initiative has been put on hold.  It’s really hard right now.  Things are going really fast right now…

What if it doesn’t clear up soon?  What if you don’t feel more in-control soon?

One of the things we don’t talk about often in business is the necessity and the value of coping. 

Sometimes what makes executives successful is their ability to come to work again tomorrow

If you are frustrated because things are in flux, and you are not making the progress you want:

  • Give yourself some credit for coping
  • Don’t expect it to get easier soon
  • Pick a pace that you can operate at for a long time

Pick your pace

I am a cyclist.  There are some hills that take you to the point of total system failure — you can’t breath, your heart races, your legs are on fire.  The only problem is that that happens after five minutes, and it may take 30 minutes to ride up the thing!

So I force myself to pick a pace, one where even though it is still really hard, I can say to myself “I can do this all day”.  When I get my thinking, my legs, and my heart rate and lungs calibrated to “all day”, then when I finally reach the top I have accomplished the task, and I am still not at the absolute end of my energy. 

If you know the how long the hill is, you can push yourself to get to the top faster. But if you don’t know how long the hill is, you need a strategy so you don’t burn out on the way.

What is your pace that you “can do all day”?  If there is no end in sight to the turmoil, how much physical and mental energy can you invest over an indefinite amount of time so that you can make it to the top no matter how long the hill is, and still have energy to go forward after you get there?

Get ahead of the competition

When the market gets easier and there are more opportunities, you want to have the energy and the resources to jump — to go fast again — while the competition has burned out, given up, or failed along the way. 

It is your job to cope, and to keep going.  It is your job to manage the turmoil and keep making forward progress in uncertain and challenging times.  Otherwise you end up just working really hard, and not really moving the business forward, or getting anywhere personally. 

I have had miserable jobs, and it is always interesting to note how much of the misery I put on myself vs. that which was strictly imposed or required by the job.  You can actually make a pretty big change in how you feel about your job, by deciding how YOU will manage your energy.

Some ways to get up the hill:

  • List all the things you are worried about.  Are they all equally worthy of worry?  Budget your worry.  Don’t burn yourself out worrying about things that are not worth it.
  • Identify at least one thing you will negotiate “away” and stop doing.
  • Pick a single area to ensure success – one thing that you won’t fail at no matter what – and don’t let the uncertainty throw you off course.  Complete that, then do the next one.
  • Talk to your team – let them tell you what they think is hard about the current state.  Don’t underestimate the value of letting them talk about this.  Acknowledge the difficulty openly, then focus everyone on something they feel they can control and do well.
  • Build your Personal Brand.  How you act in difficult times does a lot to show the world your brand.  Are you positive and in control, or are you changing your mind all the time, uncertain, all over the place? When you are stressed, are you treating people with respect or are you nasty?
  • Don’t give up on your aggressive brilliant plans.  I do some of my best problem solving on a long hill.  Keep learning, keep thinking, keep building so that you are ready to jump when the obstacles clear.
  • No matter how over-scheduled you may be, schedule some time to think every day.

For more insights on focusing your career energy, join our next monthly webinar on Avoiding Career Hazards, on June 24th.