In today’s fast paced, always on world, one of our biggest challenges is avoiding overload. We are driven to do more. It is it hard to keep up. It is a wicked system. We work harder and yet there is always more to do. From my experience, this is the most common challenge leaders are faced with. At the end of the week, we are fatigued and spend the weekend recovering to do it all over again. We are no longer working at our best, instead the focus is on keeping our head above water.
We have a blind spot
If this is so common, why don’t we see it coming and do something about it? We have a blind spot. Overload creeps up on us until we are underwater. Then we are playing the losing game of doing more. Tony Schwartz has researched and written about this topic extensively. I highly recommend his book, The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working. He wrote an article in Forbes recently, that sheds some light on this topic.
Here is an excerpt:
“In fact, cultures of overwork create a “box ticker” mentality in which people value busyness over real productivity. Responding quickly to all requests and crossing items off to-do lists become false measures of success, at the expense of prioritizing the most important tasks and giving them the absorbed and undivided attention they require.”
Tony is describing a critical symptom of overload, the ‘box ticker’ mentality. We have our list of things we have to get done and we focus our energy on completing them. Checking items off and adding new ones. The problem is this process is like working on a treadmill, there is no end unless we stop the machine. And we get more tired over time. Sound familiar?
The ‘box checking’ cycle
Looking at my own way of working, I frequently find myself managing my ‘To Do List’. It feels good checking things off the list. The problems begin when I look at the list and wonder how I will get it all done. I make inroads and then pick up again the next morning. And so the cycle continues.
This cycle is a key sign of overload. Of falling into the story of needing to do more to stay afloat. So what is missing? Stopping the treadmill. We have to fight the urge to do more and take the opposite approach. It begins by asking critical questions. What are we saying no to? What can we stop doing? If we say yes, when will we do it? If we say yes, what will we trade off?
We can also stop the treadmill by taking time each day and each week to reflect on how we are working? Is it energizing us or does it feel like we are being depleted? Are we working on the most important things?