August 3

Doing Too Much – How to Get Off the Hamster Wheel of Busyness

When was the last time that you felt peace and satisfied at the end of your work week? (experiencing a sense of relief that the week is over, is not what I consider peace and satisfied)

Do you sometimes dread Mondays because of how much must be done?

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the number of meetings, emails, and things to think about (decisions that have to be made, problems that need to be solved, people that need to be followed up with, and projects that need to be shepherded)?

Most people that I know and especially people that are in the baby boomer generation have a strong work ethic that drives them to do more. Doing more for much of my life seemed like the answer to being successful. The more that I could do, the more that I could accomplish. The more that I accomplished, the more successful I became, and while all that was ‘true’ (consistent with my own assessments) about success,  my life never really got better by me taking on more and more and more.

Staring at a completely filled calendar and massive to-do list before you start trying to respond to all the emails can create a sense of overwhelm. My personal bias towards “doing” may have been something that was misguided for years. I was successful and I did accomplish a lot. Many times, it was because I was willing to work harder than others. There is nothing wrong with worth work ethic. However, because I overused that muscle, I did not build up the muscles of delegation and prioritization.

“Action and contemplation” seem to be the perfect partners because they are so different. But most executives are not considered contemplative in any sense of the word. Breakthrough ideas and insights do not normally come to me when I am experiencing overwhelm and anxiety. The more that I do, and the busier I got, the harder it was to find valuable insight and idea. The hamster wheel of work will keep spinning as long as you keep your focus on what is next. But the wheel that never quits spinning will eventually wear out the mice that are trapped on it. Once your batteries have been completely drained, it is nearly impossible to expect a one-week vacation with family (which I found more draining) to help us refuel. I recently talked to an executive who came back from vacation to 350 ‘unread’ emails.

So, what is a leader to do? To simply say “slow down” would be naïve. To honor yourself by recognizing that change can only come about by seeing things differently and seeing things differently is probably going to require prioritizing differently, is a good starting place. To really commit to a different work schedule requires a new mindset, one that does not make “doing it all” the only way to ‘win’. It starts with acknowledging that we may have slipped into becoming a ‘workaholic’. Just like with AA, the first step is admitting that we have a problem.

The next step is to seek help. Often because we believe that we need to attend all the meetings on our calendar and to do all the tasks on our to-do list it is difficult to make a significant change on your own. It helps tremendously to have someone ask us why we have to attend certain meetings and do certain tasks or projects.

For instance, one of the things I often suggest to overwhelmed executives is to step into a meeting to start it and express their vision/charge to accomplish something and then leave to do the work. Or come at the end of the meeting and ask what was accomplished. Leaders who come to the meeting and leave sends a message that others can do the work and that they do not have to be present. Good people are inspired by big visions and the autonomy & responsibility to get the work done. A good leader looks to remove themselves from as many meetings as possible. A leader that has to be at every meeting more than likely is not leading as effectively as they could.

The same thinking can be applied to projects and to-dos. A leader who steps back and asks who on his staff could benefit by doing this specific project will see opportunities to let go and develop those around them in meaningful ways. The challenge is to first observe that there are many things that they could end up doing that are really opportunities for learning and development for their direct reports. When we think about our work being a developmental opportunity for our direct reports, it creates a whole new perspective about what it means to do work.

I am not suggesting that a leader never attends meetings and does not do any work. However, from my own experience, I believe that I did not use this mindset to empower people more through my absence at specific meetings and to develop people more by helping them learn how to do many of the things than I did on my own.

If we do not think about the work that we do or the hamster wheel as I like to call it that we will not find ways to break through and do it differently. Perspective and mindset are critical! To change means to let go the way that we are used to doing it, to create more efficient and effective ways to do it. I find the value of a coach to be tremendous in this aspect.

When a coach asks me a curious and challenging question about why I do what I do, it makes me think at a deeper level than I would on my own. Coach’s will:

  • Help you see things that you cannot see on your own because of the questions that they ask.
  • Know where the opportunities might live based on Their observations of your work and environment and team.
  • Be someone who can connect the dots but allows you to see and feel how those dots connect in your mind.
  • Help you make the necessary changes and follow through until old habits die and new habits have ground strong.

Coaches are not hired friends that you have a great relationship (however, that does often happen) with but they are business partners who can help you dramatically improve your productivity, thinking, and throughput.

If you are suffering from overwhelm during this economic and health crisis, let me know. I am interested in helping you identify what you can do to get through these challenging times. I don’t have all the answers but will ask you great questions to expose the right pathway for improvement.

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