It just never stops! The phone rings, the spam calls continue, a person walks in your office, and the list grows longer by the minute. If you Google “Lily Tomlin Telephone Operator” or remember the vignette, you might think our whole world has become one big comedic skit about not just how much the phone rings, but everything we’re expected to do, hear, and accomplish daily. “Overwhelmed” might well be the mantra of this new year, second only to the word “unprecedented.”
But how do you stop it? Or perhaps the better question is, “What do you do about it and how do you preserve your sanity?” Being overwhelmed has become a state of working and, yes, normal. The toll this takes has yet to be measured and (with an ounce of sarcasm) until the impact is seen as drastic and can be remedied by one small pill or a doctor visit, you’re not likely to see any readily available solutions. So, in the spirit of preventing your need for imminent bail money if that phone rings one more time or one more person says, “gotta sec?”, let’s talk about some solutions.
Get Back Your Seven Minutes
Interruptions are normal and if you are a leader of team members, they need you on occasion. What you might not need is the revolving door of each one of them, one at a time, calling, asking, or popping into your office with a request or question. Here’s why: Each time you get in the flow of working on a project, even a minimal interruption that forces you to shift your attention, will break that momentum. On average, it takes seven minutes to regain said momentum and usually far longer if you get pulled into another task for which they are asking for your assistance. Let’s keep it simple. You might be overwhelmed because in the span of a six-hour day, you are interrupted ten times. Ten times seven is 70. Seventy minutes of unproductive time figuring out where you left off in what you were doing before you were interrupted. Add in lunch, casual chit chat, and an hour-long Zoom meeting, and you’ve actually only had two and a half hours to complete your list of 50 items. Get back your seven minutes!
Focus on Your Top Six Priorities
Does your list really need to have that many things on it? Are they all really top priority and need your attention right this minute? ”No” and “no” are the right answers, but highly driven people will say “yes” and “yes” to both questions.
Limit what you are trying to get done or focus on just six items. Six items go on your “to-do” list and until those six get done, nothing else matters. It takes discipline. It is not easy. But have you ever had to stay extra late at the job site or office because this one item had to be done TODAY and you “just didn’t have time” but still have to do it, instead of whatever you do in your personal life? Right about now, those top six are sounding better by the minute.
Keep the Ideas to a Minimum
No matter what your top six items are, there is always some pesky innovative nugget of brilliance, or what some might call an idea, that creeps in mid-accomplishment. Hold onto it and that idea moment can turn into three bags of Goodwill goodies, alphabetized spices, and a desk propped up on milk crates at which you’re now standing.
Don’t do it! Keep the ideas flowing but keep your focus on them to a minimum. Add a white board to the wall or a Post-It pad in the passenger seat and jot those ideas down as they enter. Save them to focus on later and keep going with your current momentum. Most time management courses will tell you to have only one list, but the part often left to assumption is it is one list on which to focus. Consider this permission to have more than one list and ideas for March, think about next month’s Newsletter and talk with Bob or find Bob’s replacement. They can all go on the one list from which you pull your six tasks that will deserve tomorrow’s focus.
We all know that in the last year it is more than mere phone calls that are creating the feelings of being completely overloaded, overwhelmed, and just done. The stress of the changes, plus the fear, along with worry, possible illness, homeschooling, virtual world living, the safety of loved ones, and the scarcity of freaking toilet paper, has all had a compound effect, not unlike interest on a long-term investment. One more ringy-dingy might simply send your rage into action but remember this: it took a year to get to this point with one more post or anchor comment added to the mix. It won’t take a year to undo the effect, but one change to the list or one shift in focus on a regular basis just might do the trick.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist, keynote speaker, and executive coach. For more information on her books, training firm, or coaching services, call 866-382-0121, or go to ContagiousCompanies.com.
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