Do you feel overwhelmed?
Do you notice how common it is to feel overwhelmed these days? Family, job, health, the news, bills, children, romance, chores, security, paperwork, your boss, your friends, your employees, yourself… so many priorities feeding into a collective feeling that the hard rhythm will never stop. I feel inundated more often than I’d like to admit. Do I have a solution? Unfortunately not… I’m not a doctor or drug dealer, nor a mind reader, not to mention I have my own competing priorities to deal with which is by itself quite overwhelming.
Are you stressed yet?
I am, but I admit it’s not all bad. It actually makes me feel alive as long as I don’t lose my cool. It’s a nice thing to have a lot on your plate. The more you have to do, the less likely you are to feel bored. You feel responsible; it forces you to make decisions and to take action and it provides you the richness of diversity. Being overtasked is still something we can manage. This involves several steps:
- Determining your own priorities
- Devising a strategy
- Making and conducting plans
- Taking action
- Evaluating a situation through the lens of your priorities
The first and last steps in the cycle are quite personal, but there’s often a way to delegate the three others. This means giving clear guidance to those you’re delegating to.
Any executive is likely to be inundated with priorities; this is so deeply engrained in the essence of leadership. By the way, whatever the scale is, any leader should not feel more thinly stretch than the other members of their team. The most successful execs are probably those who feels least overwhelmed. In fact, they often enjoy a comfortable distance from the tactical demands they face. Like an Emperor, they are watching over the battlefield, delivering decisive orders to their trusted Generals. The leader needs his own personal methodology for visualizing the situation, and an army of troops that trust the priorities he set force.
I notice that most of the time we feel most overwhelmed when our next actions are dependent upon the decision or action of others. You actually have a lot of time remaining to finish your list, don’t you? Be honest, tell me, are you playing games, watching Netflix, browsing the internet – are you reading a blog post right now? Yeah, to procrastinate gives such a delightful feeling of empowerment! But it never takes long before I have my unfinished priorities staring at me from the corner of the room with an accusing look. And it’s not long before they’re joined in the corner by the eyes of the boss or our loved ones…
So we have come to the point of this article!
It’s really hard to respect the priorities of others, and as a matter of reciprocity it’s not so easy to have your own priorities respected by others.
As I said setting priorities is very personal, and typically my priorities are not yours and your priorities are not mine. There are a lot of interdependent factors in play, including space, time, culture and environment. There are also various constraints playing a part – I’m rich; you are poor – I’m dying; you are healthy – I’m young; you’re younger – I’m a girl; you’re a boy – I’m French; you’re not – I’m epicurean; you’re vegan – I’m nice; you’re nice too – I can’t sleep; you need to sleep.
As you can see, our priorities won’t be the same but it’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’ll illustrate why with a tale:
Imagine that you and I are hanging out on a Saturday. Given that it’s January, naturally my top priority is to send my annual holiday greeting card to my old German pen pal Hans who doesn’t speak a word of English. I agree I’ve kind of procrastinated on this one and don’t really feel like writing in German to Hans right now.
The second item on my to-do list is to relax after a really long week. I don’t mean procrastinating; I think that chilling-out is important for me right now but I can’t really tell you that and I don’t want you to think that I’m lazy. I keep this one for myself with a potential frustration of not being able to check priority #2 off my list.
Several items down the list – let’s say priority #5 – is to finish up all the hand washing from last night’s dinner party.
On your part, you feel like the apartment is a mess right now – the kitchen in particular – and your top priority is to get it cleaned up.
If we both stick to our priorities there’s a good chance that we’re both going to end up frustrated. Me stuck on writing my card, procrastinating and not necessarily relaxing despite what it may look like from the outside since I’m sitting on the sofa, staring at my phone. You’re actively cleaning the kitchen, staring at me over the pots and pans littering the counter.
Incidentally, your German happens to be really good and your handwriting even better. If I communicate my priorities well and understand yours, what about having you writing Hans’s card and me working on the kitchen? I always feel like doing the dishes is kind of relaxing.
At the end we might be able to enjoy some R&R together and even if relaxing was not one of your initial priorities, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it, even though I didn’t have a chance to expressly communicate it to you.
With a little communication this re-delegation was a great solution for both of us. We all know that’s not always the way it is.
Setting the priorities that will allow you to achieve your expectations requires a deep sense of communication. I’m not saying that you have to share all the priorities that you set. It’s impossible and some of our top priorities are sometime well kept in our secret garden. If you have to delegate or if there are others impacted, it’ll be easier if others understand your objectives and reach an agreement on expectations.
The hardest priorities to respect are those that you set in order to free your mind and which you don’t necessarily want to talk about.
This is particularly overwhelming when they depend on the decision of others.
The art of leadership is to have your people commit to the objectives that you determine. Quite often your ante penultimate top priority should be their first one.
Please help me not to be overwhelmed, and try to respect and anticipate all my priorities! This is a nice New Year’s resolution and maybe at some point I will feel freed-up from my seemingly never ending to-do list!
At the end of the day, if our successful executive takes legitimate pleasure in a neatly-folded sock drawer, maybe there’s no reason to call in the troops to intervene! We’ll call it Zen and the Art of Chausettes.
(P.S.: Babe, I’m not asking that you fold my socks the way I like.)
Fröhliche Weihnachten Hans! And Happy 2016 to all of you guys!
Thanks for reading, and cheers to new beginnings,