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,
Key Point: EUDAIMONIA is what the Greeks referred to as a meaningful well-lived life. I know it’s the time of the calendar when most of us reflect, even for just a moment, on whether we personally are going in the right direction with our lives. If we are heading back to work, facing the vomit-inducing task of polishing up a PowerPoint deck, this self-reflection might be even more poignant.
Ok, I’m a realist. We have bills to pay, others we are responsible for or to, and a host of other practical boundaries. I’m not suggesting we get the St. Francis of Assisi bug, give away all of our possessions and become monks. But, I’m taking up the challenge inspired by big idea people like Director of Havas Media Labs Umair Haque and others to apply a more robust checklist to my personal progress.
As an example, I like driving my convertible. But I know darn well that topless beauty provides little to whether I live a life that’s meaningful and well-lived. As you enter the New Year, as you head back to your job site and revisit your home life, think about the following:
Character Moves (as inspired by Mr. Haque):
- Think about better, not just more. How will the stuff you consume or spend tour time doing this year make you meaningfully better? Really? Honestly look at what you spend your money on and time doing.
- Consider becoming, not just being. What are your real measures of progress? What is a truly meaningful measurement index? How will you become a more accomplished self? How will you generously give yourself to others and inspire their progress?
- Work at creating and building, not just trading and raiding. When we create and build with a mind to significance, value, and beauty, it often endures. What will you do this year in this realm of creating and building? We are all leaders and regardless of our station in life, we can create and build.
- Recognize that we are transitioning from the shallowness of the frenzied world of “more,” “bigger,” “faster,” “cheaper,” to a world demanding and searching for more humanistic wisdom and behavior. Yes I know that big data, total mobility and explosive technology are having a profound impact but we can harness those trends for the advancement of human kind.
- It starts with you and me. If we each embrace the spirit of EUDAIMONIA, we will create a very constructive revolution. Why not? Happy New Year.
EUDAIMONIA in The Triangle,
Key Point: Do you understand the concept of impermanence and embrace the process of dying? If you do, then it will help you put your New Years objectives in perspective. Nothing except dying is for certain. You and I are currently in the process of dying. We are just not sure about when and how. And of course NOTHING physical is permanent. Everything on Earth we have collected will be left behind as our bodies turn into dust or ashes. And literally everything is constantly in the process of changing. The more we look for peace of mind to come from stubbornly believing that permanence and materiality leads to security, or that material collections really define us, the more we are likely to become very disappointed. Paradoxically the only thing we can actually hold onto is impermanence and death. I believe this is actually a very comforting yet compelling framework.
If we accept that we are in the process of dying and that impermanence is the only certainty, then it provides a basis for honest self-reflection into what’s really important in our lives and “New Year’s resolutions.” Do you live and use your time based on the above premise? What do you spend your time doing or thinking about? Be honest.
- Allow yourself to embrace the idea of dying and to recognize the reality of impermanence as THE foundation for your New Years “resolutions.” Dying is neither to be feared nor trivialized. But working from the “end,” helps us live the best possible way today.
- What really counts is what you and I are doing to advance humankind and ourselves. Making our life more simple and getting rid of unnecessary “clutter” also helps us focus on the “right” things.
- As you focus on what you want to achieve in 2013, it will be much more rewarding to set resolutions based on what you will achieve in the categories of self enlightenment AND giving of yourself to others. Recognize that compassion must be a way of life because we are ALL dying in a world of impermanence… So, lets be nicer in 2013.
- This is a very freeing mindset and puts a lot of daily nonsense into perspective. For example, our bodies we so adore are best when healthy but they are just ever depleting vessels of who we really are.
Dying to be happy in The Triangle and wishing you a truly Happy New Year,