If Your Plate Is Full, Get More Plates

If you’re like me, you have two different experiences with plates. First, when it comes to actual plates and food, you tend to pile on too much (especially at the buffet) because it all looks so good. I fail to think about the fact that I can take smaller amounts and go back and get more later. For some reason I love the feeling of having a full plate of food . Second, my work plate always seems to be overflowing – too much to do and too little time to do it. Interestingly, I work with many people whose client work only fills half the plate, and yet their plates are always overflowing with stuff to do—a constant state of busy. Whether your work plate is full with productive (and profitable) work or with busyness, I’ve discovered a different approach to managing a full plate. Instead of looking for less to do, get more plates.

The key is to understand that most of you falsely believe your problem is that “I only have one plate and there’s too much on it.” First of all, let’s be clear about one thing – if your plate is too full, it’s generally your fault. You’re the one that put all of those things on your plate, in large part because you don’t know how to say “no,” you’re unwilling to say “no,” or you don’t realize that you can say “no.” Today, however, we’re not talking about saying “no,” at least not directly. Today’s topic is adding plates – more specifically, realizing that you always have at least three plates available whenever there’s an opportunity to add something to a plate.

The first plate is the one you know so very well – the I’ll Do It plate. This is the plate of comfort and security, where you are responsible for something getting done and for actually getting it done (the doing). For most of you, this is your default plate and also the one that is nearly always overflowing. It’s an important plate, and I’m not suggesting that you get rid of it, but I am suggesting that you realize there are two other plates available.

The second plate is one that many of you forget (or don’t realize is separate  from the I’ll Do It plate) – the I’m Responsible for It plate. Simply put, this is the plate where you are ultimately responsible for something’s completion, but you are not the one doing it. This is also called the delegation plate, but typically we forget about it (until it’s too late) or  believe that we don’t have this plate because we don’t have the resources (people) to delegate the work to. However, we often short-change ourselves (and overwhelm our I’ll Do It plate) by not being more creative and open-minded about the ways we can delegate work. This is also a plate that we wait too long to “buy,” putting everything on our I’ll Do It plate long after it became more prudent to invest in the delegation plate. Being aware that you can be responsible for something without doing it yourself is a critical awareness for all of you.

The third plate is another form of delegation, but it’s different because it involves letting someone else be responsible – the You’re Responsible for It plate. This is the plate that requires the most direct form of “no,” but it’s a resource that allows you to set healthy boundaries and truly focus your valuable time on what you do best. This also translates into doing most often what adds the most value to the business, to your clients and to you. While you may like being responsible for everything – admit it, it feels good, like you’re a superhero – the truth is that there’s a price to pay. That price could be things not getting done, or not getting done well. That price could be in your personal life, relationships or health – you get it all done, but you sacrifice yourself and other parts of your life. Bottom line – if you believe that you have to be responsible for everything, then you need to change the model or your thinking because you’re not a superhero.

The good news is that you now have at least three plates to use in managing your business and work responsibilities. While it may seem like more juggling, it’s actually easier to juggle these three plates professionally than to overload your one plate (I’ll Do It) and hope that you don’t drop it or that things don’t fall off the plate (which they will and do). The challenging news is that to get the benefit of the three plates, you have to slow down, be more aware and be more intentional with where you put things.

For most of you, this is a big challenge. While you often complain about it, you like having a full plate, you like being responsible and you like doing it all. It’s a source of comfort and often of confidence. In contrast, you struggle saying “no” or letting someone else be responsible. Letting go feels risky, but the greater risk to your clients, your growth, your business, and your personal happiness is in leading and working with only one plate. Now is your opportunity to stop loading one plate and start using your other two. Like the buffet line, there will always be plenty to put on your plates.

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Too Much on Plate

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