Key Point: People are searching ways to feel less burned out and overwhelmed at work. Tony Schwartz’ March 2012 Harvard Business Review blog, The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, was the most widely read of all HBR posts last year. Why?
Research states that between 25 and 50 percent of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work. It’s not just the number of hours we’re logging, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.
As Schwartz states in his blog:
“What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse… The biggest cost — assuming you don’t crash — is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 percent… But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.”
Obviously no one wins when we behave like this. And if you think this whirling, dervish behavior makes you less expendable or indispensable, think again. What you and your manager should be focused on is your results, not whether you show your dedication by turning into a frazzled mess at the end of the day. My observation is that we self-inflict much of this unproductive behavior. No one really makes us do it. So what can we do on our own, without waiting for or needing anyone’s approval?
- In 2013, get 100 percent CLEAR on what measurable results are expected of you and your role. (Not activities, results)! Be relentless to define this with your boss. Do not let him/her off the hook. You and your boss both need this clarity.
- Use these defined results as a filter to review whether any activity you are involved with contributes to your results. Do not work anyone else’s agenda! I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be a team player, but teamwork should be at the intersect between your obligations and others… Nowhere else. This is especially true if attending to other emails, while perhaps entertaining, involves mostly non-value added stuff. Often, reading your emails first thing in the morning can inadvertently send you working/commenting on less urgent matters. Before you know it, a few hours have passed and you have done little to accomplish what you are responsible for.
- Determine what you want/need to accomplish each day and attend to your highest priories first, if you can. If you need information in specific emails to get your vital work done first, find those and skip by all the distracting subject headings. This takes personal discipline. If you are a natural procrastinator, ignore tasks that have less negative consequences till you have time to accomplish them.
- Block out segments in your day for strategic planning or thinking. If you have any discretion in your schedule, consciously make time. This includes some renewal activity each day, like a walk, 10-minute snooze, a real lunch, etc. No fear. Ignore what others may think. Remember that you’re focused on results, not just looking good and busy.
- Take real vacations to regenerate yourself. There is nothing heroic in letting your vacation pile up. You are doing both you and your employer a disservice if you do. When you’re at work, you should be laser focused and fully engaged. That’s what you’re getting paid for. When you are taking a break, really get refreshed. Working through most of your vacation because your smartphone and tablet are by your side is DUMB… It’s not a sign of incredible dedication. If you’re not expendable for at least a few days, your employer is not resourcing the role properly or you took your vacation without a good plan for things you are responsible for. Do not take on that burden as well.
No burnout in The Triangle,