Friday, 17 December 2021

Busy, busy, busy

It has been an interesting eighteen months, living in a Covid-19 world. From a career development point of view, a number of my clients have made large shifts in their focus. They are transitioning out of work where they no longer feel there is meaning or identity for them, into work that will provide a more meaningful identity (Huffington, 2021). 

I am meeting with clients who are taking stock of their lives. Many say they feel over-burdened. They want to feel recharged, but want help with how to do that.

If we think of ourselves in our pre-Covid lives, many of us squeezed a lot in. Our normal running speed was at 95% of capacity, continuously. Then along came Covid-19, and added another 5 or 10% of load on us - depending on our roles, and suddenly there was no room for anything to go wrong; or we were already into overload.

Worse, there was nothing we could do about it. We either had to live through it, or collapse from the strain. Many of those who weathered the storm are now transitioning out of high stress roles: medical workers, border workers, teachers, hospitality workers, retail staff (Andrews, 2021; Huffington, 2021; Wan, 2021). Those who collapsed may still be recovering, and there has been a high suicide rate, particularly in the US (Kane, 2021).

Even those who 'got through' often feel like they 'only just' managed (Andrews, 2021). In this slightly more relaxed world of vaccines and fewer deaths, they now have time to take a breath. But they are not yet recharged.

People tell us all the time to stop and smell the roses, but we don't tend to listen, or - if we do listen, we may feel powerless to action that advice. So when a short by HBR came across my desk entitled "Time Management May Be the Problem — Not the Solution" (2021), it made me pause to think about our capacity, overload, and 'making room' for the problems that will occur in our lives.

When we are running at peak, one 'extra' thing may derail us: the illness of a whanau member; an extra project at work; a colleague who is out of action; an injury; or a longer commute. When we start to feel overwhelmed, our stress may mean that we trying to pack too much in to our lives. We need to create time and space to think, to process, to plan. We need to digest what is happening for us, so we can make choices in what we need to let goWhereas time management is the art of wedging extra stuff in to our lives, stuffing tasks into every nook and cranny. When considered this way, it is clear that time management really is not a solution: it is a band aid showing - clearly - that we are trying to do too much (Harvard Business Review, 2021). Efficiency may not be effective, to misquote Drucker (1974). 

We are better to, when "feeling overwhelmed, [...] attack[...] the root cause: the sheer volume of tasks" (Harvard Business Review, 2021). We can do that if we "think in terms of priorities not time". When we are asked to do more, we need to ask what the priorities are, and what can be dropped. 

Doing this helps us in two ways. "First, it [reminds us that our] time is limited and [we] can only commit to completing a certain number of tasks at a time. Second, it [shifts, or shares, responsibility on deciding] which task is more important, so that [we] don’t have to worry about failing to meet a critical commitment" (Harvard Business Review, 2021). If we are considering who will care for an ill parent, for example, we can consider dropping work hours, so reducing the complication of work stress, to make space for undertaking that care. If we have an extra project to tackle, we can drop something that is less important. I have written on prioritising previously (here), which covers a range of techniques for different situations.  

And perhaps, if we focus less on time management when we are nearing burnout, we can decide to reduce or change roles earlier rather than later, and so start recharging our batteries more quickly.



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