Imagine this scenario: “Congratulations – you’ve been promoted, and the organization is entrusting you with greater responsibilities!”

But before you can even start thinking about celebrating your promotion, you discover two team members have left the organization. On top of that, there’s a headcount freeze so they can’t be replaced.

What’s more, the regulatory environment means you’ll have to spend most of your time managing compliance and reporting rather than growing the business.

It seems you’ll have to re-prioritize an already prioritized (and urgent) list. Frankly, there’s no way you’ll get it all done.

So how do you overcome these challenges especially when you’re still an individual contributor or not yet senior enough to change the rules?

Doing More with Less

If you’re facing this situation and reaching a breaking point, here are three things you can do. These have helped me through times when we lacked the resources to get everything done.

1. Assess What’s in Your Control

Check your own thinking and understanding of the situation. Start by looking at what’s in your control. What are the things you can decide or change without having to get anyone’s permission?

Your brain is hardwired to jump to conclusions and take shortcuts, which is a good thing. Otherwise, you’d have a hard time getting anything done if you had to give due consideration on every single step you take.

But the side effect is that you can sometimes make inaccurate assumptions and fall back on existing habits.

Here are some questions to help you do your own assessment of the tasks and deliverables you’re responsible for.


  • What needs to get done, why is it needed, who is asking, and what is the intention behind the request?
  • What do you need to clarify and with whom?
  • Is there a simpler way to fulfill the intention than the specific task you’ve been assigned?


  • To what standard does it need to get done? Where can you allow yourself to do “B+ work”?
  • To what extent are perfectionist tendencies driving your thinking?


  • What assumptions are you making about the assignment or task and what’s required?
  • What if you were wrong in your assumptions (for example, you may assume you have to perform the task yourself when that isn’t the case)? And what would that mean for the way you approach your “to do” list?
  • How could you find out whether your assumptions are valid? Who would you ask and what would you want to know?


  • What could you stop doing or pause for the time being to make room for the essential assignments or tasks?

Your answers may bring insights to help you find a way forward. But whether or not that’s the case, it’s also useful to reach out to others.

2. Learn From and Enlist Others

Once you’ve considered everything in your control, zoom out and look at your wider sphere of influence. What are the things you can influence by reaching out to others, whether they’re peers, seniors or external parties like clients or service providers?

Who does this well?

  • If there are people who handle this type of situation well, can you speak to them to learn their methods and strategies?

Who’s in the same situation?

  • If you have colleagues (whether internal or external) who are facing the same issues, can you get together to share ideas on how you handle these situations?
  • Could you join forces to reimagine how the work can get done?

Who’s in the “supply chain”?

  • Many tasks are part of a bigger effort where your task depends on the input of other groups and vice versa. When that’s the case, how could you get other teams in the supply chain to pitch in on their parts to make it easier to complete the overall task?
  • By the way, connecting with others is also a great way to get to know people in other parts of the organization or even the broader ecosystem beyond your company. And convening others for the benefit of the organization is a great way to show leadership.

3. Talk to Your Manager(s)

Managers are often unaware of what it really takes to get things done and it’s up to you to let them know. When you do, it’s important to frame the conversation in a constructive way so they are most likely to embrace your viewpoint and suggestions and see you as a responsible leader rather than a complainer.

For example, doing the precise thing they’re asking might take a huge effort while a variation on the task would take a fraction of the time to complete.

In those cases, you could check before you embark on the huge effort by saying something like, “I see what we’re getting at. I wonder if doing variation X would be sufficient because doing Y would take several days and affect the timeline on Project Z.”

When you’re having these conversations, it’s all about the how. Here are a few questions to consider as you prepare for the conversation.


  • What are you seeking to accomplish through the conversation?
  • What would success look like?
  • To what extent are you asking for something your boss can sign off on, or will they need to raise it with others?


  • When would be the best time to raise the topic?
  • When is your manager at their best?
  • When are you at your best?
  • Can you speak to your manager before you embark on the task?

Understanding their perspective:

  • Before you have the conversation, it’s essential to understand your manager’s perspective. What pressures are they under? What’s the intention behind their request?


  • What would be the most effective way to get their attention and have your communication “land” well with your manager?
  • Is this something they’re grappling with too?
  • Is this likely to be the first in a series of conversations or will one conversation be enough?
  • One way is to frame the conversation as an update on what’s on your plate and getting their input on how you plan to take the next steps.

If you’re reluctant to say anything, keep in mind you could be putting yourself in a worse position by staying silent if your manager thinks it’s an easy task but you end up spending a lot of time on it and looking inefficient.

Invest in Relationships

In a world where you’re likely to be asked to do more with less, it’s worth investing time to develop strong working relationships with your manager, colleagues and people in the broader ecosystem.

It’s the best way to ensure you can have these kinds of conversations when needed. It’s also a way to get support from others if there’s really no way around having to get it all done without new resources.

Now would be a good time to start building your relationships… especially if you don’t need to make an ask just yet!

How do you handle situations where you’re asked to do more with less?

Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you.