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This morning I was working with Steve* to overcome his sense of increasing burn out. Steve, like so many of us, is expected to “do more with less” every day – and on a reduced budget with reduced staff, to boot. He loves his work and believes in his company, but feels like every day is a Sisyphean task of working hard to knock one thing off his “to do” list only to have two or three added in its place. The worst part is getting distracted by the two or three incoming tasks and not even completing the one.
We addressed several common coaching topics – how to set boundaries and expectations with his manager, how to deal with shifting priorities, how to reduce his own sense of guilt for not achieving everything expected of him during the work week (which weighed heavily on him even in his off hours) – but there was one simple tip that he could implement immediately to provide relief.
Completely close Outlook for one hour, each day
Most professional workers live and die by Outlook. Emails pop in every few minutes with urgent and immediate fires that we have to put out right now – or at least it feels that way. Sometimes the need truly is urgent. Sometimes it’s just a distraction from the task we don’t really want to do. Either way, we get sidetracked. Before you know it, you’ve been building that darn slide deck for your presentation for four hours and you have little to show for it. Meanwhile, you’ve acted on 5 requests, responded to three questions, and accepted two invitations to meetings where the actual need for your input is questionable.
Stop the madness by blocking 75% of those interruptions before they even start.
Your boss knows where your office is and how to knock on a door. Your co-workers know how to use a phone. Your direct reports know how to slip a note under said door.
The world will not end if someone can’t reach you this minute.
This is a true statement 99.99% of the time. And yes, that’s an arbitrary use of statistics just to make a point (hey, politicians aren’t the only people who can use that technique).
Choose one thing to work on that hour. Maybe it’s a document. Maybe it’s thinking through a challenging situation. Maybe it’s pulling back and thinking strategically about where your work adds value to the company and what you might stop, start and continue doing to add more.
Any of those things is probably more important than responding instantly to someone’s oddball request or incidental question.
What could produce in an hour without interruptions?
What eats away your time and energy during the day? How do you handle it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
* Names and situations are composite portrayals of the clients I help. This allows me to retain confidentiality while sharing real-world solution ideas with others.