I really enjoy meeting up with my colleagues and friends, especially when we engage in ‘Meaningful Conversations’, but just recently, and more than ever, the words ‘I do not have enough time, I am on work overload and feel exhausted’ seem to be a running theme with life in general.
So the question is do we have enough focus, are we taking on too many initiatives?
One of the most persistent challenges that people face these days is “initiative overload” – driving themselves too hard and having too many projects and not enough time to get them done.
If you’ve ever found yourself working long days and weekends, and still not feeling caught up with your workload, then you know what I mean.
We all know that a big reason for this overload is the surge in expectations that’s tied to a technology-enabled and connected global economy. As email, texting, instant messaging, teleconferencing, and other electronic communications have become indispensable, people have grown conditioned to expect fast, if not instantaneous, responses to almost everything.
For example, a recent study found that when consumers contact companies through social media, 42% expect a response in one hour or less, and 67% expect a response the same day.
The same seems to be true with work assignments in companies: Customers, managers and even in our personal lives we do expect much more rapid turnaround times for getting things done.
And as people try to action faster, actions and changes to actions end up taking on more and more – and less gets finished.
Sometimes boards of directors and leaders are unaware of all the initiatives under way and their impact on the organisation. In other case’s organisational politics conspires to let initiatives continue long after they should have run their course.
Either way, overload can result in costly productivity and quality problems and employee burnout. With record low unemployment, companies that do not adjust the workload are also at risk of losing valuable talent.
So why does “Initiative Overload” happen?
In my experience, companies often lack the means (and the will) to stop existing initiatives. Sometimes that’s because they have no process for determining when to close things down.
A project might have been vital for the business when it launched, but later the rationale no longer exists – and yet the funding and the work continue.
Leadership teams often engage in prioritisation exercises that define and communicate where people should focus their energy. However, they undermine those efforts if they don’t also do the hard work of explicitly deciding what trade-offs to make and what has to stop.
For companies already experiencing ‘initiative overload’, focusing on the benefits of cutting back can make the path forward somewhat easier.
Organisations are at a great advantage when they learn how to say no, as Steve Jobs once put it, to the “hundred other good ideas that there are.”
They can then use their creative and productive energy more wisely, foster greater employee commitment and loyalty, and accomplish more in the areas that really matter.
The facts are that we’re subjected to thousands of distractions throughout the day. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that you can be distracted simply by hearing or feeling your phone vibrate, even if you don’t pick it up.
Try putting your phone out of sight (and touch) for 10 minutes of uninterrupted productivity.
Modern technology has evolved to exploit our urgency addiction: email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and more will fight to distract you constantly.
Turn off all your notifications. Choose to check these things when you have time or allocate time to be distracted - say, during a break from work – and work through them together, saving time.
My final thought on the matter is, it’s not easy but once you build the good habit of turning off notifications, you can actually get to work and be more productive.
Schedule your priorities and stick to them.
Treat your highest priorities like flights you have to catch: give them a set time in advance and say no to anything that would stop you making your flight.
It pays to unplug.
If you can be reached via smartphone, email, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re way too available and all these outlets are possible connections that can distract you from your purpose.
Disconnect and watch as your productivity improve.
Your smartphone might be the biggest productivity-killer of all time. Most people just can’t put the phone away.
If your phone is connected online, the temptation to stay updated about almost everything is very high. If you can, put down that phone (or power it off) for a while when in the office and witness the effect that can have on your level of productivity.
Don’t take on too much
The basic principle of success is to focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have.
The most accomplished and well-known people in history were known for something unique to them. Einstein pursued the theory of relativity like his whole life depended on it.
Relativity is one of the most famous scientific theories of the 20th century. Mozart was incredibly passionate about music. He was the very best for many generations before and after him. Even today, is there a second musician who could match his genius?
Spend most of your time on the right things and the rest takes care of itself.
It’s not enough to just ‘work hard’. Hard work is not necessarily a bad thing.
But hard work can be a waste of your life when it’s directed at the wrong cause. Decide what is good for you in the long term, and pursue it with all you’ve got.
Each time you have something extra to do or an additional goal to pursue, you further split your power.
Less is more
The key to focusing on the essentials in life and at work is to limit yourself to an arbitrary but small number of things, forcing yourself to focus on the important stuff and eliminate all else.
A great video by Carl Honore, who discusses ‘Thinking Slow and Smart’
When you are doing too much at a time, you are constantly switching from one task to another, constantly interrupted, constantly distracted.
Do less, clear away distractions, single-task, and get more done.
When you do too much, your work is spread thinner, you have lower quality, and people won’t spread your work like they should.
By doing less, you can create something remarkable. Something incredible worth sharing.
Prioritising and optimizing your time during the day will give you more time to focus on what matters, getting more accomplished in a lesser amount of time.
A really great quote by Nido Qubein, he once said:
“One of the greatest resources people cannot mobilize themselves is that they try to accomplish great things. Most worthwhile achievements are the result of many little things done in a single direction.”