I’ve been hearing from a lot of people recently that they feel busier than ever, but when they look at what they’re actually accomplishing, they can’t work out how, or why. You know what, I suspect it’s a cumulation of things.
- Things we undertook during Covid-times plus the reintroduction of some of the before-times (travel, in person events, etc).
- Sustained uncertainty, workload and pace – particularly for those whose workload increased during the pandemic.
- Additional challenges and complexities to navigate – cost of living crisis, economic uncertainties, strikes and shortages.
- The backlog of things put on hold during the pandemic – and some of those things didn’t stay in stasis whilst on hold – they got worse, or bigger.
- Unforeseen effects of the past three years that we’re still discovering now – I’m particularly noticing it in the mental health of our young people.
- The effect of being in sustained stress or ‘fear mode’ for too long – hyper-vigilance, anxiety, lack of focus, making ‘silly’ mistakes…
- The fact that none of us work or live in a bubble. Our feelings rub off on each other.
…it’s a lot!
And by the way, stress reduces our cognitive and emotional resource – just when we need it the most.
Imagine you’re being chased by a bear. In that moment, the ability to string a sentence together or focus on details of a spreadsheet, or to be creative, patient, diplomatic, or eloquent – those things are simply not top priority! Your brain is going to divert all available resources to what it sees as critical to its survival: running, hiding, fighting – or scanning for threats.
So for anyone who’s working harder than ever and yet feel like you’ve got less to show for it – you’ve likely been handling a lot – and you still are.
Yes there may well be things we can do to help – a fresh look at the ways you’re working (to tackle the cognitive load) what you’re actually working on (the workload) and how you’re thinking about the work and the stuff that’s happening in work and in life (the emotional load).
But first, let me say this loud and clear…
None of it is because you haven’t been working hard enough.
None of it will be made better by you beating yourself up.
So, what does help? Here are three things. They won’t solve everything, but they will help for starters…
1. Your Ta-Da list!
When our brain is actively scanning for ‘threats’ (stuff that’s uncertain, incomplete, might go wrong, or has gone wrong), noticing the wins, what’s done, and what’s good is one of the best acts of healthy, helpful, positive resistance I know.
Every week, as part of my weekly review habit, I write down my Ta-Da’s (stuff I’ve done that I’m proud of – or glad to have completed!) and my Sparks (stuff that sparked my joy, curiosity or gratitude). Sometimes I share that with someone for bonus points.
2. Slooooow down
It’s the most counter-intuitive thing, when you feel like the work is piling up and you’re falling further behind. But rushing, especially when our brain is in ‘threat’ mode, will just reinforce the threat. Especially when we find ourselves making mistakes, missing stuff, or just not able to do what would normally come super easy. Slow yourself right down. Start with your breathing.
3. Stop when YOU need to (not when the work is done)
Oh boy do I need this one! I am so susceptible to ‘just one more thing’ before I allow myself to stop. In recent weeks this one has bitten me hard. When I have reached the end of myself – squeezing in that one extra thing – however simple or small – takes SO much more extra time and resource to get done – and even more to recover.
Stopping also has a way of communicating safety to our frazzled lizard brains. If we’re being chased by a bear, the one thing we must not do is stop, right? But when we stop, it’s our way of telling our brain it’s ok. It’s safe. We’re not actually being chased by a bear. And rest, right now, is infinitely more life-supportive than running!