Mental Habits to Quell Overload

Too many tasks, too many people, too much stuff. Whether fueled by the roles they want to play or a multitude of obligations, most people are overloaded. Companies and leaders are waking up to the fact that a relentless focus on doing more and being more is not sustainable. Burnout is both a personal problem and an organizational liability.

What can be done?

Wake up. Focus on where you are and what you are doing now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future.

Control your attention. Practice consciously putting your attention where you want it to be and holding it there.

Detach. Get appropriate distance from the situations you are facing. This helps you maintain perspective and know the difference between care and worry.
Let go. Ask yourself a simple question: Will continuing to focus on this help me, my people or my organization? If the answer is no, let it go.

Change your mental model. Doing it all is a bigger task than it used to be. Deciding what effort to give where may require new thinking. Using the metaphor of driving using a manual stick-shift, it helps clarify the value of different “modes” of thinking and behaving:

  • 1st Gear — Time to fully rest and recharge. Crashing doesn’t count and recharging doesn’t happen the same way for everyone.
  • 2nd Gear — Time to connect with family and friends without an agenda or goal of being productive.
  • 3rd Gear — Time to socialize and engage with a variety of different people — this may be work-related or purely social.
  • 4th Gear — Time to get work done, checking off our to-do lists and multi-tasking.
  • 5th Gear — Time for focused, uninterrupted work. You’re “in the zone,” working on what matters most, thinking strategically or being singularly productive.

Most of us are stuck in 4th Gear, or unsatisfactorily trying to drive in several gears at once. To feel less overwhelmed and more effective, we need to know which gears are needed when and how to drive in all 5.

Summing-up: You won’t single-handedly change the nature of work, so stop holding your breath and waiting for things to settle down “someday.” Instead, build some new habits that can make a difference in how you focus, how you feel and the results you get.

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