I recently spoke with a manager who had too many projects and not enough people. (Sound familiar?) I suggested he organize two kinds of project portfolios. The first is organized with the weeks across the top and the people down the side, explaining which people are doing what in each week, and how much work is unstaffed. The second portfolio was his running estimate of when projects would come into his group (by month) and when they would finish. This way he had pictures to discuss what his choices were with his manager and a picture of how he could make tradeoffs.
I first did this when I was a manager with too much to do. I took my spreadsheets to my manager and explained I didn’t have enough people for everything. What was the first priority, second priority, third, down the line. He said, “They’re all top priority.” I replied, “So you want me to make the strategic decisions about which projects I’ll staff and which I’ll postpone. Ok, I’ll do that. ” I turned to walk away. “No,” you have to do everything.” I’ve said before that not making a decision is a decision, and I told him that. I decided which projects to staff and which projects to postpone (and which projects we could do less for.
You may want to make sure your responses are more career-enhancing than mine :-) But no matter how you slice it, somebody in the organization needs the courage to rank the projects by deciding which one is the most strategically important, which one is second, which one is third, and so on. If your boss won’t do it, you need to. It’s not easy, and it may feel scary. But if you have pictures of your portfolio, it might be easier.