Strategies for taking on more work - or how to deal with your husband leaving

My husband left.
Not in any dramatic sense, he only went away for a few days, on a trip I had recommended. What that meant for me though, was that I had to take on his tasks at home.

The same happens at work. Your colleague is off for a few days and you are asked to cover for her/him.

In this post I share strategies you can apply when you find yourself responsible for someone else's tasks on top of your own.

Case study: Taking over the responsibility for shopping and cooking food for the family for 6 days. Additional complication: I hate cooking, and don't even care much for eating. 

Step 1: Ask yourself if the additional tasks need to be handled at all

Whatever tasks you have been asked to take on, ask yourself if they are important enough to handle during the limited time period.
Too often we do things just because they are normally done. To manage your time well, always question if what you are doing is worth your time.
In our case, eating during the days my husband and oldest son were away, was important enough to manage, one way or the other.

Step 2: Define the ambition level

When you take on someone else's tasks on top of your own, there is most likely a need to reduce the ambition level - either on what you already do or on what you take on, to make it all fit in to the time you have available.

In our case there was plenty of room for lowering the ambition level. My husband cares about food and cooks "properly". Me? Not so much.

When my husband asked what we would eat when he was away, I shrugged and said
"Müesli and sandwiches. Left-overs. Whatever we find in the fridge." 
This ambition level suited me and my middle son well. But there was one more stakeholder -  and he did not agree.

Step 3: Agree on the ambition level with all stakeholders

Whenever you take on additional tasks, agree with all stakeholders on the ambition level. For instance agreeing with the colleague you are taking over tasks from, what the minimum level is.

In our case, the dissatisfied stakeholder was our youngest son. A 12 year old who watches cooking programs on Youtube and who remembers different events by what he ate.

 "Oh, you mean when we were at the restaurant where I had [a dish I don't even know what it is]?"
So the ambition level couldn't go quite as low as I initially planned.

Step 4: Check if you can get help

When you find yourself taking on more work than normal, you can ask for help with your normal tasks or with the additional tasks.
We often think we need to manage things on our own, when there are plenty of people around who can and want to help out.
In our case this meant involving the youngest son, the one who actually likes cooking.

We did the grocery shopping together. He prepared the shopping list and he found all the things in the store. I paid and drove us to the shop and back.

He cooked most meals. I contribued with a fruit salad.

One evening the youngest son was away, eating at a friend. My middle son and I ate ramen noodles and were perfectly happy with our meal. And the small amount of dishes.

Step 5: Managing the unexpected

Your colleague probably handed over some tasks properly. But then there was this extra thing (s)he forgot to mention and it turns out it has to be managed.
Then it is time to get creative. And in our case - brave.
My husband has more tasks than cooking at home. He is also the house spider man, meaning moving any spiders from our house to our garden. (There will be no killing of animals in my house.)

We had prepared to take over the tasks from the family cook. Not from the house spider man. And still, there it was. A huge, terrible spider sitting on the ceiling, just above the computer desk. The youngest son went out and refused to come in again until we (my middle son and I) had "taken care of it".

We quickly went through all the steps above:

Do we really need to take care of the spider? Yes we do. The youngest son will not come back into the house as long as the spider is there. And the rest of us don't like it lurking above our heads either.

Can we reduce the ambition level?  Taking it out was the only ambition level we could agree on.

Can we get help?  I was seriously considering asking the neighbour for help but I felt too silly to do that, so in the end it became a collaboration between my middle son and myself. I got it into the vase (it was too big for a glass - or at least we thought so) and put paper on top, he put the spider and vase in the garden.

Then we celebrated. We made it! Remember to celebrate when you have managed something new.

I am happy my husband is coming home soon.