It’s the new plague. And a highly contagious epidemic, from which no one is immune.
Are you showing any symptoms? I feel like:
- I’m working all the time, but not getting that much accomplished.
- I’m working on 10 projects at once, but none get finished.
- My ‘to-do’ list never gets completed.
- I’m in meetings all day and don’t have time to work.
- I bring my laptop to meetings and pretend to take notes while surfing the web.
- I’m answering email all day and don’t have time to work.
- I answer email during conference calls and in meetings.
- I have less and less time to plan, not to mention free time.
- I have less and less time to learn, not to mention creative time.
- I can never get to things quickly enough.
- I sit down at my computer and end up doing something different than I planned.
- I am eating lunch at my desk, mired in my virtual inbox.
- I make calls while driving, and even send the occasional text, even though I know I shouldn’t.
If you checked off three or more, you’ve got the disease. 8 or more and we need to rush you to an unplugged vacation. All of the above and you need a sabbatical!
There’s a cure. And what better time than Independence Day to set yourself free? First, don’t be ashamed of this disease. You’re not alone. Between 25% and 50% of people report feeling overwhelmed or burned out at work. So… see the actionable informationoverloaditis cures below; take at least two and contact me in the morning for further instructions.
If you’re an employee:
Do less. Find a balance. See The Secret to Finishing Projects: How to Balance ‘Done Enough’ with ‘Overdone’. Unfinished projects are not worth much. So set deadlines and adhere to them. If you can see you’re going to have trouble meeting your deadline, consciously (and with supervisor approval) drop something else you’re working on by getting it re-assigned, eliminated or postponed. Don’t keep it to yourself if you’re not going to make it. Trying to be all things to all people, and then imploding, helps no one.
Self diagnose for ‘term paper syndrome.’ This can really get in the way. If you’re the type who strives for perfection… who wordsmiths every word… who agonizes over every verb, adjective and adverb… who rereads, edits and rearranges copy until it seems just right… who thinks that if you only got 98% on an exam you failed… then see ONE Simple Way to Get More Done in Less Time: Stop Being a Perfectionist. Voltaire is credited with saying: The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Plan ahead. It’s been said that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. I don’t suggest going overboard here – no spending a year writing a plan you simply put into a drawer. That’s busy work; not real planning. I suggest real planning, using a strategic planning template (here’s one suggestion for planning a content calendar), and thinking seriously about why, what, how, who and when. Figure out how much time you guesstimate everything will take, and assure you have the resources in place to succeed. If not, modify the plan. And schedule time to review the plan at least quarterly so you can eliminate things that may have been supplanted by new endeavors that popped up (they always do).
Tell technology you’re the boss. The average number of emails received by the typical professional exceeds 100/day. Combine this with social media, and the fact that it’s expected there will be 75 times as much data in the world in 2020 as there was in 2010, and you can see you’re not going to do well if you continue managing data inputs in the same way as you do today. As Chris Aylott writes in 3 Ways to Reduce Information Overload : “Unless you’re planning to be able to think 75 times faster in 2020, it’s time to start managing that data.” And managing the social media. See 5 Tips to Avoid Social Media Overload.
Stop kidding yourself about multi-tasking. It’s not productive. When you switch from one task to the next you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25%. You’re also depleting your reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour.
Declare your independence before you get sick. Stop wearing long hours like a badge of honor (if your culture applauds this, think about leaving). Excessive time working inevitably takes a physical, mental and emotional toll. That leads to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates and soaring medical costs. You’ve got to manage your energy, or it will manage you.
Renew yourself regularly. Get up and take a walk at lunch. Go home on time and have dinner with your family. Put your digital devices aside for a scheduled period of time so you are not interrupted or distracted from what you’re doing to renew yourself.
If you’re a supervisor/manager:
Make meetings work. Have them only when needed, and schedule for 30 – 45 minutes rather than an hour or longer so folks stay focused (and don’t multi-task). Start and end on time, have an agenda and make sure someone sends out a meeting memo that lays out decisions made/next steps/assignments. Otherwise you’ll end up having the same meeting next week.
Stop demanding instant responsiveness at all hours. I once had a boss who’d send me an email at midnight requesting that something be ready for her at 8 a.m. Very The Devil Wears Prada. If this is your culture, just STOP it. Unless you want to lose your employees or make them sick.
Encourage renewal. Facilitate flexible schedules. Don’t make it impossible for folks to leave for an exercise class during the day. Celebrate break times. Offer brown bag activities during lunch. Let folks take real vacations, where you don’t expect them to be plugged in. Research suggests that those who take real vacations are more productive overall.
Time is more precious than information. Set yourself free.