A new job comes with more challenges than simply learning everybody’s names. And at some point in everybody’s career, a project feels too big to tackle or the workload feels insurmountable. Before you settle into a pit of despair, though, check out these tips for overcoming a tough project, meeting the demands of a new role and discussing your concerns with the boss. You may be surprised by how quickly things can turn around.
Break it down
Chances are that you’ve only realized you’re in over your head after a big project is underway. And as Elissa Ashwood, CEO of Truly Accomplished, a talent technology firm in Pittsburgh, notes, this isn’t something that only happens to new employees. She says, “In fact, the more you succeed, the more you take on, the more likely you are to feel this way at times. The secret is to handle it well to resolve it!”
To do this, Ashwood says, take a cue from management consultants, whose jobs are to deal with situations over their heads. One trick they employ is to turn immediate problems into smaller tasks. “Break the big problem into several smaller problems. They are easier to solve,” says Ashwood. “For example, if you have to deliver a fitness marketing project and you don’t know where to focus, the parts might be: the audience you are targeting, the problem you are solving for the client, the message, and the medium you’ll deliver it. Each of the pieces is clearer. Answer each one and add them back up. You’ll find that you already know some of the answers already. And for the ones you’re stuck on? It’s a lot easier to go to someone else and say ‘I know the audience, problem and vehicle, I’m stuck on the message.’ For extra bonus points, repeat this break-down on the part you’re stuck on. For example, the message might be ‘lose weight,’ ‘have more energy’ or ‘fit into your [favorite] jeans.’ That’s easy to get other people to help you decide. When you’ve thought the options through this far, no one will even know that an hour ago you were overwhelmed!”
Go with the workflow
If your workload or responsibilities are more the problem than one specific project, it may be time for some of your work habits and expectations to adapt. For example, getting input from your team, making realistic time commitments and managing your progress are all ways to get back on track.
Here to elaborate is Jennifer Bevan, a career coach based in Los Angeles. She offers these three tips:
- “Before diving into a project, have a conversation with your manager or team members about the project scope, timeline and anticipated results. Don’t be afraid to ask for input and to bounce ideas around with seasoned colleagues — you are new to the company and this is expected. Not only will you show you are open to ideas and suggestions, but you are beginning to build your network at the company and want to demonstrate an interest in getting up to speed.
- “Don’t take on more than you can handle. This starts with making realistic commitments to deadlines. No one will be impressed with you if you complete a project quickly, but the end product is riddled with errors, poor assumptions, or lack of thought.
- “Break your work into manageable pieces — tackle small pieces one at a time. Put together a timeline so you feel organized and in control of your work. Perhaps, you complete a section of your work, set up a meeting with your manager and solicit feedback. You can position it like ‘I’d love to share with you what I have accomplished so far to get your input and to make sure I’m on the right track.’ Your manager will appreciate this, as they don’t know the quality of your work yet — this will help you build credibility and gain their trust quicker.”
Get on the same page
Checking in with your manager can help align your intentions with the demands of the role, and can also help to avoid any surprising issues later. Chaz Pitts-Kyser, career coach and author of “Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College,” recommends setting aside time to speak with your manager and share that some parts of the job are taking longer than anticipated to grasp. She says, “Follow that by saying that just in case they had any concerns, you wanted to let them know that you are taking steps to get your work up to par and be the valuable member of the team that you know you can be. Then explain the steps you are taking to improve.
“Often times, bosses avoid confrontation and won’t bring up someone’s poor performance until it has become a real problem, through bringing the issue up first, you put yourself in control of the situation and can help allay a manager’s fears about you,” Pitts-Kyser says. “Also, your boss may end up pointing you to resources or people that can help you stop treading water and finally start swimming.”