Results by John Austin, PhD

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Feeling Overwhelmed?

Today, it seems more and leaders I work with feel overwhelmed.

They put a lot of pressure on themselves to get everything done.

… they feel like they are being asked to do “more with less”

… they are being told that strong leaders work until the job is done, even if that’s 60 hours or more.

Sometimes this causes them to cut out things from their personal lives…less time with the family, less sleep, less exercise, and poor sleep.

Does this sound familiar?  Yeah, I’ve been there too. 

…and it seems to come and go, with the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes getting brighter and sometimes fading away. Surely there are times during our work lives when we must sacrifice some things outside of work. But sometimes it seems never-ending, and it’s a struggle to get through the tough and very busy times.

What strategies have worked for you? How do you deal with this struggle? Reply here and share some ideas with me…I’d love to share them with the group.

Here are some of the things I have recommended to leaders to deal with the busy times:

Keep calm. Easier said than done, right? If you’ve ever shot for the stars at work with a new position or new project that stretches your abilities, then you’ve probably experienced some stress. One way to stay calm under stressful conditions is through breathing.

box breathing, also known as the Navy SEAL breathing technique, is a great way to do this. 

…meditation is related but probably a more long-term solution to coexist with your emotions and thrive in stressful situations. There are many apps out there to help you learn to do this, but I like “Headspace” a lot. There are free options.

Get a time management strategy. Do you have a time management strategy?

…if you paused to think about it, that means the answer is “no.”

It is important to figure this out. My colleagues who are pros at this operate at inbox zero, which means every email is addressed every single day. Oh yeah, they are also SUPER productive.

…My favorite resource here is Getting Things Done.

However, one step you can take right now (it will take you 5-10 mins) is to print out your calendar in a weekly view for the past 2 weeks. Get 3 highlighters, and color each meeting or appointment as follows:

…green means you needed to be doing that. No one else, it’s your job to do it.

…yellow means you need to figure out how to get someone else to do this. It’s important but should not be you doing it.

…red means you need to stop doing this right away.

Then, act on the results.

Triage your task list – this is a medical term used in battlefields and emergency rooms to determine which patients are most in need of care.

…when it comes to reducing your sense of being overwhelmed, the idea is to list out everything that you need to do, and then rating each one as: Immediate, Urgent, or non-urgent. 

…if you are overwhelmed, then you need to take care of the immediate and get a plan for the urgent while delaying the non-urgent. This might mean rescheduling meetings, travel, or even delegating to others.

…a more structured way to do this is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. Place each task you’ve got to do into one of the 4 boxes on the matrix. If they are ALL urgent/important, then you should talk with your supervisor to get some help in setting expectations on which items are most important or most urgent.

Look at your list and decide what can be delegated.

…This brings me to delegation. In their famous paper “Who’s got the monkey?”, Onken and Wass say that each task should be completed by the person at the lowest pay grade who can competently complete that task. You don’t have to (and can’t) do it all!

Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and enough exercise. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re too busy. However, business is an intellectual sport, and if you can’t think clearly from lack of sleep then you’re only going to do stuff that makes you busier.

I hope that these techniques give you some sense of calm and control over your stress. 

Try them out and let me know which ones work best for you!

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