The wonderful problem of having too much work.

Full disclosure, this blog post comes as a result of reading Paul Down’s article on the same subject this morning. While he tells about how he specifically will deal with it at his shop, I’ll attempt to give a more generic approach to how to handle this sort of problem.

One day several years ago, my pastor got up and began to deliver an issue the church was facing: the church parking lot needed some repair and expansion, and they needed to rethink how the process of getting out of the parking lot worked. With two Saturday night services (at the time; they have since scaled back to one) and two Sunday Morning services, traffic flow was a big issue, and could quickly turn a pleasant church-going experience into a very unpleasant one.

The thing he remarked on was this: “This is a very good problem to have. There are loads of churches that would love to have this problem.” And it’s true, isn’t it? As freelancers or business-owners, having more work means the prospect of more money, which makes you more profitable. The idea that you would have “more than enough” is a utopia that a lot of us only dream of. And on occasion, we’re likely to have it happen to us. The question is, how do you manage it successfully, so that those you have to turn away because you’re booked solid don’t leave with a sour taste for your company? Or more importantly, how do you handle it when more work than usual comes through your door and you need to take it in order to pay your bills or your employees?

Why you would want more work

The company isn’t doing so well, so this influx of work is a much-needed blessing. At the same time you’re saying your prayer of thanks about this influx of work, you should be planning out how to spread this around and stretch the money so that you can do your best to keep the company from becoming so thin again. Pay your debts. Save for a rainy day. Buy more tools, people or marketing. Use your newfound work wisely, because these things tend to come in clumps, not streams.

You’ve needed to delegate more tasks to someone else, and this will allow you to hire the additional staff to do that. Use caution here, and plan thoroughly, because you don’t want to spend the money to hire someone, only to have to lay them off later because you didn’t plan well. Be sure to hire this employee in order to not only take some of the load off of you, but to earn their own keep. They need to be able to produce enough that you can keep them on for the long haul.
You’ve got the room and staff to handle it, an increase in production is a good thing. This is seemingly a perfect situation, but it rarely happens like this. By definition, getting “more than enough” work means just that – it’s more than enough, hopefully not more than you can handle. Explain to your staff that things may be busy for a little while and give them a plan of what’s going to happen as you guys handle these new orders. Will people be working weekends? Overtime? Will you need to shuffle people around a bit, perhaps moves a salesman to the production floor in order to keep up? It’s good to have a plan in place ahead of time for these things, instead of trying to throw something together at the moment you need it.
Why you might need to turn that project down

Do you have a sufficient workforce to handle it? If you don’t, do not try to force it to work. I cannot express how important this is. Trying to force a square peg through a round hole is only going to lead to some bruised knuckles and a failed experiment. I used to work in a manufacturing setting, where there was a goal on how much we wanted to make that week or that month, but once we surpassed that goal, there was literally no stopping it. It didn’t matter that we were busting at the seams with work already – it just kept pouring in. The result was a lot of grumpy people on the production floor, and a boss who didn’t understand why his people weren’t thrilled that we were raking in profits by the truckload. Their inability to successfully turn away work or outsource it inevitably lead to my leaving the company after only 7 months, which left them in worse shape than before. Your company relies on your customers and your team equally, and they need to coexist peacefully.

Does it align with your corporate vision? In my business, I care about passionate people. If I’m on the tail-end of a project and someone comes to me with the prospect of a deal involving bringing their passion to the web, I will at least give it some thought. If possible, I’ll schedule it for sometime after my current project finishes, but if this prospect is on some sort of deadline because of a big event or other essential element, then I might work some extra hours to make sure they get taken care of. I’ll do all of this because it aligns with my passion and vision: working with others who have a passion for what they do.

How to turn away work.

Most of us never rehearse how we’ll react when we find out we’ve got too much work, so our reaction seems to be to knee-jerk and can leave everyone feeling let down if we’re not careful in our approach. If you find yourself suddenly with too much work, here’s what you do:

  • Reschedule it to a later date if possible.
  • Refer them to a colleague. And then, as a show of good will, check in on that project from time to time to see how they’re taking care of what would have been your project. This will show the client that you really care about them, even though they’re not your project.
  • Outsource it. I rarely do this because it means that I won’t have a lot of control over the final project, but sometimes I just can’t find any other alternative.
How to prepare for more work.
Try to find out when “more work” will strike.  Are you launching a new advertising campaign, or does business pick up at certain times of the year? Be sure to have temps waiting in the wings to come in and pick up the extra slack if needed. Get them in there and trained before the big rush hits.

Talk to your team about how to handle more work. You’re less likely to have people on your team mad at you if you explain the situation to them and explain what’s going to happen, as well as take time to hear from them on their own reactions and ideas. If you hear a collective groan from your team whenever “more work” comes it, it means you’re not communicating with them effectively on how to handle the situation.

Do you have any other tips on how to handle having more than enough work? I’m sure many of us wish we had that problem. Let me know in the comments!