Whatever role you play in your company, you know how hard it is to avoid the creeping sensation of burnout, even if you love your job. Burnout has steeply risen over the last two years, meaning it’s more crucial than ever to find ways to fight back.
It’s easy to get stuck in a snowball effect of trying to do too much at once, then failing to do anything well, then scrambling to fix errors and keep moving ahead. There’s a saying you might have heard: “Throw ten balls at someone at once, and they’ll catch zero. Throw ten balls at someone one at a time, and they’ll catch them all.”
Over the past year, you may have felt like too many balls were thrown at you at once—managing requests, maintaining forward motion, and producing quality work. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to do all three things for an extended period. It can damage your wellbeing and the health of your organization.
So what can you do about it? It starts with taking command of how you respond to new tasks, ideas, and requests.
When you receive a new request, your first reaction might be to add it to your to-do list and start working on it right away. Or you might want to set it aside and forget about it, thinking, “This is just another thing I can’t get done.”
Before you do any of that, pause. Take a moment to reflect on your state of mind and your initial reaction. Give yourself the time to perceive your reaction, then set it aside so you can respond with more intention.
This is a crucial step because it can illuminate how you’re already feeling and how that might be affecting your work. If your first response was to start immediately, then you might be stuck in a frantic, disorganized state, feeling a sense of urgency to move forward quickly without reason. Alternatively, if your first response was to sigh heavily, this might mean you’re already feeling the effects of burnout. This self-awareness is the first step to taking the necessary steps to protect yourself.
Before starting on any task, take the time to evaluate its level of importance and urgency. President Eisenhower created a strategy for this that’s still useful today. While the person handing the task to you might be extra excited about getting it done, it may not fall into an urgent and critical category in the grand scheme of things. This can come in very handy when you’re trying to balance a busy schedule and endless to-do list.
Once you’ve identified the level of importance and urgency, take a moment to review the task in the context of your other work. Where does it fall on your to-do list? Depending on the structure of your organization, this might be different for you than for another team member. You might have cross-departmental duties, or maybe you’re working on several various projects that are all competing for your time.
Now that you’ve moved through the first two steps, decide the best course of action. No one likely knows the full shape of your to-do list, so you’re the expert on whether you’re the best person for the job and when and how it should get done. Maybe it makes more sense to hold off until the next quarter or to have a different team member work on it. Or perhaps the timeline needs to be adjusted, so you have a reasonable time to complete it. Steps two and three should provide you with confidence when deciding the best next move.
While you may be thinking, “I’m not the boss, how am I supposed to respond to requests if I’m not in a position to say no?” Whether or not you’re able to say no, your opinion and evaluation still hold weight. Good leaders trust their team members and will welcome your insight. A well-balanced team means a productive and happy team, leading to quality work, retention, and satisfaction.
Your manager has probably heard the saying you can have it fast, cheap, or good, but you can only pick two! The same goes for getting work done. You can get something done quickly, but it may mean other things need to be pushed to the side. Your valuable insight can help them do their job better, clarifying challenges and creating a clear path forward.
These five steps will take you out of frantic reaction mode and put you into a leadership mindset. They’ll help you gain confidence and control over your workload and empower you to set and identify crucial boundaries to protecting your wellbeing as an employee (and a human!).
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