“I don’t even have time to think!” 

When we catch ourselves saying that, we have been given an opportunity: To pause and reflect.  

In a fast-paced society where everyone is working at a relentless pace e.g., “the deadline was yesterday”, it is already hard enough to take a break and rest. Many businesses are using any opportunity to pivot, to survive in the Covid19 crisis we are in now. Some organisations are taking the opportunity to expand. We may be working harder than before the crisis, and what we could be hearing often now is the gratitude of the employed individual, “I’m lucky to have a job. What can I do?! I will just keep doing.” Certainly, the survival of our organisations is key for us to keep our jobs. But are we working at a sustainable rate? Being an employee means that we are getting paid to do work for our organisation and our performance indicators are determined for us. But do we have a say in managing our workload? Are we valued at bringing value to the organisation?  

While we are busy dealing with wave after wave of work, let us encourage ourselves to take a moment and reflect. If we can plan our route, we can increase our survivability and reduce chances of psychological and physical injuries. 

Not everyone of us would have the extra brain power or time to revamp our work-life. We could be the lowest in the hierarchy and have no one to delegate to. At the lower grounds, we are the hardest hit. Swept away by the huge tide and just trying to stay alive. What can we hang on to, to stay afloat until the tide subsides?   

Here are some tips that we could consider: 

1) Spend more time on doing things that will have a significant impact.  

Are we just grabbing on to anything in sight? What can we hold on to that is substantial enough? 

When we review the work that must be done, our brain may head for the easiest ones. “Let’s get that out of the way”. These could mean replying emails, answering text messages, responding to “Could I have 5 minutes to check with you about something real quick?” Before we know it, the workday is gone, and we are sulking at dinner because we have to work after it.  

Instead of prioritising our time responding to other people’s demands, let’s spend our most productive hours for work that are significant to our projects and our growth. Not every email or work message has to be answered immediately: we can find that sweet spot between letting others wait just a little bit longer while we could do work that makes us feel we have done something of significance. Work that can be put on our resume when we have done it well. Yes, that task that keeps getting procrastinated because of the meetings we have been attending or the emails we have been writing.  

Rather than looking at factors of urgency and importance to help us with prioritising work, Rory Vaden proposes a theory of multiplying time by spending time on work of significance. You could find out more about what he means and how he uses the focus funnel at his Tedx Talk.

2) Lighten the load. 

It is hard to decide what to take with us because we will never know what we would need. But let’s be realistic. Bring along only essential stuff and eliminate additional load that could drown us more quickly.

This means, unnecessary meetings, saying yes to all requests, unproductive conversations, ensuring perfection on all our work, spending an unchecked amount of time on Tik Tok, Netflix, Instagram, Reddit, arranging our wardrobe by colour. Somethings’ gotta give.

If meetings can be replaced by an email, let’s go ahead. If an email can be replaced by a quick call, go for it.  

Greg McKeown is a thought leader on essentialism and has a book on “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less”.

3) Seek guidance. 

Is there someone we can alert so they can give us a hand? Maybe they can’t pull us out of the water, but they could point us to what we should be holding on to. 

We may not feel empowered to decide which tasks are significant or could be eliminated. When someone is on higher ground, they could probably see better than us. They may have experience surviving in a tsunami of work too. If this person is in our team, our survivability should matter to them. A team is only as fast as its slowest member, our productivity and efficiency should matter. What we eventually bring to the team matters. Instead of yelling “good luck!” and be gone, people on higher ground have the means to lift us up. Give them a chance to guide us or even have them rethink how things could be done differently. What we can learn from the guidance can be applied for the next big wave. 

This would translate to something along the lines of strategically questioning the way things are done: “Normally, I sit in such discussions with everyone but for this instance, I thought I could check with you if I could sit out and work on XX. This would eventually move the team forward for YY project.”  

Communicating with our managers is a skill that all of us need to practise and hone: communicating our wishes and steer for a win-win, to cultivate a sense of autonomy for ourselves while not compromising the team goals. 

If we find yourself having difficulty managing the tension of meeting our needs and that of our organisations, we could benefit from speaking to a mentor, or a trusted and more experienced colleague. 

4) Manage our emotions and exercise self-care. 

We may feel bad about our own effectiveness. We may not be pleased with our performance. But hey, if it’s a tsunami (read: crisis), all we can focus on, is to survive. Sustainability is key so let’s tend to our emotions that could help us relieve stress reactions and symptoms – a little goes a long way so looking after ourselves is essential: ensure enough rest so we can maintain our effectiveness and keep fatigue levels in check, address feelings of anxiety and fear with short mindfulness meditation, nourish our bodies with nutritious food when we found ourselves in the depths of misery, do things that help us foster confidence when we feel helpless. There is a blog post on affordable self-care on this site that you could refer to for some ideas when we have little time. 

To conclude

We could improve our work performance little by little as we become more and more resilient. Certainly, when we have the bandwidth, we could take active steps you can take improve our work methods and performance. Dr Ron Friedman who puts out some awesome material and a free Peak Work Performance Summit in May 2020 (from which I am so grateful for) has some resources (like a free ebook on his website) that could help you have your perfect workday.

Often in difficult times, our outlook on work could change too. In an ideal situation, the goals we pursue at work are in harmony with our own career development goals; we grow in tandem with the organisation. But we may be put in situations that contradicts this. Perhaps we are given an opportunity to review what truly matters.  

For now, I hope this post could help provide you with a simple structure that you could utilise to help you stay afloat in challenging work situations: 

  • Spend more time on work that would have a significant impact
  • Lighten the load 
  • Seek guidance 
  • Manage our emotions and exercise self-care 

When we can think and plan and set an intention to meet our basic needs to survive while actively managing stress by exercising self-care, we become less vulnerable to burnout.  

If you find yourself drowning in work, your health impacted by work stress, or if you feel like you are so burnout that you are not functioning so well at work, or you feel so overwhelmed with the onslaught of tidal waves without any end in sight, know that you are not alone. You may have difficulty answering big questions about your career, on your own. Before you make any drastic moves or any huge decisions, reach out and seek help from a coach or mental health professional.  

I have experience working with individuals attending to such concerns and you could arrange for a call with me to find out if I could help you along on your journey. 

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