Capacity for Spinning Plates

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Ever see the variety act where someone is spinning plates? Briefly, this starts off with a guy putting a plate on a stick and spinning it. He then continuously adds more and more plates while keeping the original plates spinning. In a short time, he gives each plate another spin to prevent it from slowing down, falling off the stick and breaking. Good performers end up literally running between the two rows of sticks of spinning plates but eventually reach a point where he can’t keep all of them spinning.

This is a great visual to determine your workload capacity. You know you have reached that point when the plates start to break. I think this analogy appropriately illustrates when you have that much moreon your plate than you can manage. If you can keep the current set of plates spinning, that equates to some extra, unused capacity. A clear sign to add some more!

Well, maybe not. Seems odd that we strive to work to the point where we start making mistakes. Having more plates than you can keep spinning is not good business practice. Mistakes are bad – lost time, cost of goods, and re-work and so on.

Of course, I appreciate the other extreme – barely working on tasks when you are capable of much more. You want to keep every plate spinning while avoiding having any one break. Good communications with your peers and management is vital to working at or near capacity.

To help keep your plates spinning, I offer some suggestions:

1.     Establish and document clearly defined goals – they should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed)

2.     Be honest about what you can and cannot manage. Do not over-promise and under deliver.

3.     Control what you can by assuming the best while preparing for the worst.

4.     Ask for support when you need it. You are not alone; ask for expertise when it is beyond your skill set.

If you have buy-in from your manager on this approach, you can keep all plates spinning. If not, you have some work ahead of you. However, I believe that most managers want their teams on average working as close to capacity as possible. There will always be peaks and valleys in the workload, but it’s important to monitor progress to committed goals during the year and review on a regular basis.

I don’t like the sound of breaking plates. Disrupts the workplace, requires getting replacements and then there is the clean-up also. Keep your plates spinning and when they start to fall off and break, dial back a bit!

How do you measure your capacity? How many “plates” are you spinning?