Ready to declare your independence from the pandemic of overloaditis?
It’s a highly contagious epidemic, from which no one is immune.
Are you showing any symptoms?
Consider which of the following are true for you:
I feel like:
- I’m working all the time, but not getting that much accomplished.
- I’m working on 10 projects at once, but none get finished.
- My ‘to-do’ list never gets completed.
- I’m in meetings all day and don’t have time to work.
- I bring my laptop to meetings and pretend to take notes while surfing the web.
- I’m answering email all day and don’t have time to work.
- I answer email during conference calls and in meetings.
- I have less and less time to plan, not to mention free time.
- I have less and less time to learn, not to mention creative time.
- I can never get to things quickly enough.
- I sit down at my computer and end up doing something different than I planned.
- I am eating lunch at my desk, mired in my virtual inbox.
- I make calls while driving, and even send the occasional text, even though I know I shouldn’t.
- Vacation? What’s that?
If you checked off three or more, you’ve got the disease. 8 or more, we need to rush you to an unplugged vacation. All of the above, you need a sabbatical!
But let’s look at what else you can do to give yourself some needed relief. Right now.
- First, don’t be ashamed of this disease. You’re not alone. One study puts the number of people reporting feeling burned out at their current job at 77%!
- Second, don’t let yourself become like the proverbial boiling frog. The reason I began this article with a list of overload symptoms is to help you become aware of the signs before, bit by bit, they gradually take over your life.
- Third, begin to address the symptoms. Try to take a view from the balcony and see what your personal modus operandi looks like from up there. Productive? Effective? A good use of your time? If you were advising someone else behaving as you do, what counsel would you offer?
There’s a cure.
And what better time than Independence Day (if you’re in the U.S.A. — otherwise, any day is a good day) to set yourself free?
Seriously, don’t just read this list and toss it aside for later. If you’re overloaded, later seldom comes. Right?
Commit to doing just one of the 11 strategies below in the coming week . Personally, I suggest beginning with #1; most of us fool ourselves on this one. I also really like #2; see if you can do that over the next week or so. And #4 is a really good project to put on your calendar this week for some date in the coming month, making a commitment to decluttering.
Or pick your favorite!
12 Strategies to Declare Independence from What Gets in the Way of Effectiveness and Well-Being
If you’re an employee:
1. Stop kidding yourself about multi-tasking.
It’s not productive. When you switch from one task to the next you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25%. You’re also depleting your reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.
2. Resolve to do less.
This may sound odd, but most people try to take on too many projects. No one can do it all. Find a balance. Unfinished projects are not worth much. So set deadlines and adhere to them. If you can see you’re going to have trouble meeting your deadline, consciously (and with supervisor approval) drop something else you’re working on by getting it re-assigned, eliminated or postponed. Don’t keep it to yourself if, realistically, you’re not going to be able to make it happen in a timely manner. This is not failure. The failure already happened when you took on too big of a load. Now is your opportunity to reverse course and be all you can be — but not more! Trying to be all things to all people, and then imploding, helps no one.
3. Self diagnose for ‘term paper syndrome.’
This can really get in the way. If you’re the type who strives for perfection… who wordsmiths every word… who rereads, edits and rearranges copy until it seems just right… who never finishes researching… who thinks if you only got 98% on an exam you failed… then see Top Secret to Completing Projects: Balance ‘Done Enough’ with ‘Overdone’. You may have heard the saying, credited to Voltaire, “ the perfect is the enemy of the good?” The point is that perfectionism is contrary to satisfactory competence. Why? Because you can’t put 100% into everything. It’s all you’ve got.
4. Plan ahead.
It’s been said those who fail to plan, plan to fail. I don’t suggest going overboard here – no spending a year writing a plan you’ll simply file away. That’s busy work; not real planning. I suggest real planning, using a strategic planning template, and thinking seriously about why, what, how, who and when. Figure out how much time you guesstimate everything will take, and assure you have the resources in place to succeed. If not, modify the plan. And schedule time to review the plan at least quarterly so you can eliminate things that may have been supplanted by new endeavors that popped up (they always do).
5. Manage email differently.
Tell technology you’re the boss. The average number of emails received by the typical professional exceeds 120/day. Did you know between checking email six times more than needed, letting notifications interrupt us, and taking time to get back on track, we lose 21 minutes per day? Processing irrelevant emails takes time. So does sorting and moving them into files. So does searching for them. So does to re-opening some you’ve already opened, either filing them or letting them sink to the bottom of your inbox. Even deleting them takes time! An article in Harvard Business Review suggests five practices to take back control of your inbox.
6. Close your computer.
Stop wearing long hours like a badge of honor (if your culture applauds this, think about leaving). Declare your independence before you get sick. Excessive time working inevitably takes a physical, mental and emotional toll, leading to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates and soaring medical costs. You’ve got to manage your energy, or it will manage you.
7. Renew yourself regularly.
Get up and take a walk at lunch. Go home on time and have dinner with your family. Put your digital devices aside for a scheduled period of time so you are not interrupted or distracted from what you’re doing to renew yourself.
8. Take vacation!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re indispensable. And don’t hoard your days off so you’ll get a big pay-out when you leave. Is that extra money for a rainy day that may never come really worth forgoing the joys, and memories, current holidays will bring? Enjoy your sunny days now!
If you’re also a supervisor/manager:
9. Make meetings work.
Have them only when needed, and schedule for 30 – 45 minutes rather than an hour or longer so folks stay focused and don’t multi-task. Develop a specific agenda, and be clear whether it’s information sharing, brainstorming, decision-making or some combination thereof. Start and end on time. Afterwards, make sure someone sends out a meeting memo that lays out decisions made, next steps, and assignments. Otherwise you’ll end up having the same meeting over and over again. Check out my favorite book on the subject, and consider buying it for your whole team (I did!)
10. Stop demanding instant responsiveness at all hours.
I once had a boss who’d send me an email at midnight requesting something be ready for her at 8 a.m. Very The Devil Wears Prada. If this is your culture, just STOP it. Unless you want to lose your employees or make them sick. I’d suggest you simply apply a reverse Golden Rule approach here (“Do not do unto others as you would not have them doing unto you”), but I fear some of you are masochists. Well, you do you regarding the hours you keep. Just don’t be a sadistic supervisor.
11. Encourage renewal.
Facilitate flexible schedules. Whether you’re virtual or in the office, don’t make it impossible for folks to leave for an exercise class during the day. Celebrate break times. Offer brown bag activities during lunch. Let folks take real vacations, where you don’t expect them to be plugged in. Research suggests those who take real vacations are more productive overall.
112. Take employee burn-out seriously.
If you notice someone is stressed out, make time to talk with them and address their concerns. Gallup finds only one in four workers believe their employers value their well-being. Maybe you do, but that’s useless unless you show it. Ask them about the causes of their stress, and make a short and long-term plan to address them. Burn-out is not always a quick fix, so make a plan for check-ins to assure progress is being made.
Happy Independence Day!
Take stock. Value yourself, your co-workers and your precious time.
No more being a slave to information overload, unrealistic demands or trying to do it all with insufficient support and needed resources.
You can’t control everything, but there are many things you can control.
Why not do so?
Start with one thing.