Blog articles

What if there is so much to do I just don’t know what to do first?

I think I am not unusual in sometimes finding myself paralysed with the sheer volume of things to do.  That feeling of when you can’t settle to one job, but keep jumping from one to another and end up finishing nothing.  I have a few tricks I use when this happens.

  • I just do something – anything – even just the first thing on the list. I have to make sure I don’t use this to avoid doing the most important thing which could be problematic or even nasty (I call this my ‘frog’ ) but if they are all equally awful or equally urgent I just do one.
  • I complete a series of quick jobs first so I can tick them off and get a sense of achievement. Again, I have to watch I’m not using this to procrastinate – see eat the frog below.
  • I pick the most important thing and concentrate on it for an hour. There are not many jobs which cannot be significantly advanced with 1 hour of intense concentration.  Moving into part of the office where I won’t be disturbed or closing email really helps (google “email and intermittent reinforcement” if you are interested why).   Doing this tends to rid me of my inertia, makes me feel like I am achieving something and kicks me into action to do the other things on the list.
  • If I recognise I’m procrastinating I “eat the frog”. This means I do the one thing I am really trying to put off first.  If I don’t it will weigh me down all day or all week , or even worse at the weekend , and stop me doing anything else properly.  If I “eat the frog” and get it over with it frees me up to get on with other things.  The relief of having done it is amazing.  In my experience the job is not usually as awful as I think it will be once I get started.

I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me over the years.  I would love to hear of any further tips you may have to share.

LinkedIn article 11/1/19

Help – there are not enough hours in my day!

Most of us are familiar with this scenario.  You get into the office on a Monday morning.  You know what you need to achieve in the coming week (it’s board paper week) but by the time you’ve walked from your desk to the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee and back to your desk you’ve already had 4 new verbal requests.  Then you check your email – the Chair has been busy over the weekend and suddenly there are lots of other things to do.

How do you ensure that you can achieve them all and still get your board pack out in time?  Time management skills are crucial if you want to be an effective governance professional.

This is what has always worked for me in my career to date.  It is the low tech version, which suits me because it gives me the most flexibility and visual picture, but you could do the same electronically.

  • Firstly I print off my outlook calendar in ‘month view’ for up to 6 months ahead. Of course some of the appointments will change in that period but some things are unlikely to such as Board meetings; your annual leave; the annual leave of your colleagues.  This sheet is for long term planning rather than the detail.  I ensure all the really important key events are marked on this calendar and use it to ensure that I am aware of any potential clashes or impossible weeks where there are too many things happening.  If I spot one of these, I consider whether I can delegate, start working on it in a quiet week, or bring forward or negotiate an extended deadline.  The sooner I know about these the better I can ensure I manage my workload.
  • For the day to day more detailed planning I print out a month’s worth of Outlook Calendar in ‘day views’. Again, I know the appointments already in the calendar might change, and I choose to keep my calendar up to date manually as well as electronically.  This has served me particularly well in the past while my organisation had a flaky IT system.  It means I always have a hard copy of my diary and to do list.  I use pencil to make amendments so they could be rubbed out easily if further changes occur.
  • On this printed sheet there are two spaces on the right hand side – one called “Arrange by Due Date” and one called “Notes”.
  • I use the Arrange by Due Date section for my daily to do list – this is usually the urgent and important items. I start each day with this list and add to it as requests come in e.g.  When I meet someone in the kitchen, or from emails.  If the deadline isn’t for a few days I might add it to tomorrow’s list or for a few days’ time, particularly if the list for the current day list starts to look unrealistic.
  • From the day list I prioritise where possible and then knowing what meetings I have in my diary I allocate time to complete the tasks between meetings. This provides me with a realistic view of how much I can achieve that day.  Ideally I try to block out a lunch break.  A walk out to get a sandwich and some fresh air will significantly help my concentration in the afternoon.
  • If it is clear I cannot do everything I consider whether I can delegate, check the deadline (sometimes there is leeway) and negotiate a new deadline or cancel a non-urgent meeting.
  • At the end of the day, anything that has not been completed can be transferred to the next day’s list. If I end up with having to move something to tomorrow or the next day’s list which had a deadline of today, this is a conscious process.  I ensure that I communicate with the person I am doing the work for about why I am going to be late and can reassure them that it is top of my list for the following day.
  • Of course I might have to work late or go in early to get as close as possible to the deadline but overall my system helps me ensure that such incidents are rarely a surprise and are planned.
  • I use the Notes section for the longer term items which don’t have deadlines and which I can do if I find myself with spare time.  If some items are on this list for a very long time it might be time to question whether they need to be done at all!

This system has worked very well for me for my whole career and I think I can confidently say I have rarely missed a deadline in an unplanned or un-negotiated way and rarely forget to do anything.  As a  governance professional this not only means I am doing the job well, but also builds up a stock pile of good will against which I can draw when I need something last minute from a colleague.

What has worked for you?

Next week I’ll talk about how to handle the situation when there is so much to do you don’t know where to start.

Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ)

What is it, and how relevant is it in our role as Governance Professionals? (read more)

The Company Secretary – the HR Director’s best ally?

Being an HR Director can sometimes be a lonely business.  You are responsible for the people aspects of the organisations strategy, but in certain circumstances, such as the transformation of the Executive Team or senior talent management and succession planning, you may have to do this in a vacuum from your team.  Have you ever considered that the Company Secretary is in a similar position and building a good relationship with them could help you both to achieve your goals? (read more)

Can I fast track the development of soft skills required of a governance professional?

A series of blogs outlining how you can fast track the development of your soft skills required of you as a governance professional (read more)

A guiding hand
ICSA’s mentoring scheme offers bespoke, confidential support to help governance professionals fulfil their potential (read my article)
(article originally published in Governance and Compliance Magazine,

The Role of the Company Secretary – Reflections on the 2017 ICSA Conference (read more)
Having had time to reflect on the ICSA 2017 Conference a clear theme emerges for me – the Company Secretary role is much more than the glorified clerical role it can sometimes be seen as.  This statement will not be a surprise to any of my fellow Company Secretaries, but as we know, the role is still not widely understood and is often overlooked.

To illustrate this point here are some of the things the ICSA Conference speakers this year challenged Company Secretaries to do…

Free Mentoring via the ICSA (read more)
Being a Company Secretary can be both a rewarding and challenging experience and sometimes it can be helpful to speak confidentially to an independent third party to help you think things through.

Could company secretaries benefit from coaching? (read more)
In the following article I suggest that coaching is the ideal way of helping Company Secretaries build the skills required to realise their full potential, particularly in smaller organisations where there may only be one or two such roles.

Where was the company secretary? (read more)
It feels like every week there is a new corporate scandal, whether in the public, private or third sector. And every time a new one emerges, the first thing I think is: where was the company secretary?