These days we’ve all had to work hard to keep up with the pace of the world, and it's having an effect on us. We can all keep up, but we can also very quickly lose our minds! This affects our sleep, stress levels and ultimately, our overall performance.

So, how can we learn to thrive in this fast-paced work environment with positive energy and sustainable performance?

This article will explain five ways we can keep ourselves mentally safe from the growing pressures of work in 2020, and beyond.

Times have changed

For many of our clients, the pandemic has caused all of their strategies to go out of the window. There's been a necessity to replan to try and predict an unpredictable future. We are doing things in a different way than before, and when you combine this with everyone now working from home, the challenge increases.

If you watch the media talking about recessions, downturns and uncertainty, the future almost looks dystopian. But the truth is the future has always been uncertain – we are just a lot more aware of it than we have ever been – and we’re panicking. As a result, it's creating a frenzy of work for ourselves. 

From the conversations that we’re having with some of the key people in big companies like Barclays, Unilever, and L'Oréal, we’re seeing people fall into a "busy trap". It’s a treadmill of constant work.

But no matter how much work is done, there is always going to be more to do. With this in mind, how do we clear through the clutter and keep up without burning out?

1. Be ruthlessly focused

These days, people have so much to do and they think every one of their tasks is a top priority. But that can't possibly be true. If it is, we have diluted the definition of the words "priority" and "urgency".

People come to Symbia because they need to increase their performance or because there's some dysfunction in the team. We can give you and your people all of the Mental Fitness and resilience tools in the world to help you, but if you're not focusing your energy, it's a losing battle.

That's what leadership is. It's making the hard choices, knowing where to focus, and sometimes making a decision without having all the information. What we see right now are people suffering because those big, brave choices aren't being made.

Most of us have a to-do list which starts off manageable and keeps getting bigger as the day goes on – it can be overwhelming.

There's no time to do these things you have added because maybe you're on calls, so you're going to have to do them in the evening or the weekend. It's frustrating when there is no end to the work. But a natural end to work is an illusion; there is no end. 

The only end is the line that you draw. 

You've got to get your head out of the trenches and into the helicopter. You've got to look at the bigger picture. Start your Monday by looking at the many things you have to do and ask yourself: "What are the three things that are going to make the biggest difference?"

That is your overall goal, your three big rocks. Then each day, pick out three other things you need to do to move you towards that bigger goal. Make sure you review this regularly to ensure that you are progressing. 

Be ruthlessly focused, and you won't get distracted by unimportant tasks. 

2. Progress over perfection

Now, this one will depend on your personality. Personally, I am not a perfectionist. I like to take action and see progress, but not everybody is like that. Some people like to make precise plans before doing something. 

However, if you are working in a fast-paced environment and have a list of 97 things to do, striving for perfection, or even close to perfection, is dangerous.

Try starting with your low-hanging fruit. What are the things you can do to get progress underway and gather momentum? This may be easier for some than others but by staying in the "perfection trap" you may never get anything done!

We felt the perfection trap when renaming the company. We spent ages trying to come up with the perfect name to the point that it was impossible to make a decision. But we realised moving forward was more important than a ‘perfect’ name. We just needed to be brave, get it out there, get feedback and move forward.

 

3. Don't overvalue emails and meetings

We have all been guilty of this. Sometimes you can spend all day in your inbox replying and responding to emails as they come in. This "open file syndrome" we all have sometimes is like the equivalent to standing in your hallway with your hands out waiting for the letterbox to open! 

Emails are not the work; they are a communication method that just looks and feels like work. 

It's the same with meetings – nobody knows how to run a good meeting! You have got to be militant about meetings. What is the objective? Why am I there? How can I contribute? Can it be handled in a WhatsApp message?

Make sure to be upfront about what the point of the meeting is. Put people in a list of mandatory attendees and explain to them WHY they are required to be there. 

If you are frustrated by the number of meetings in your diary, you need to start blocking out your time. Set meetings with yourself and give them project names. Secure your own time because if you leave your diary open, someone else will steal that time from you. 

4. Say no

We run many workshops on this because saying no and setting boundaries is very difficult to do. Why do people say yes when they know that it means you're working evenings and weekends? When we dig into it, we realise it's driven by fear and judgement. 

But these are mostly insecurities. The reality is that most people respect that you've made that decision, especially if you've explained why.

So how do we say no?

When we get requests from people, they metaphorically lob their bucket of tasks over the fence into your bucket. Then our assumption is they really need you to do it urgently.

What needs to happen is a real open conversation about the urgency of the request. You need to find out what is more important in this task. Is it speed? Quality? Budgets?

When you get more clarity by asking questions, you can take it off your plate, and still meet their needs. 

So, avoid your own assumptions, ask questions to fully understand what it is they need and then see how you can meet their needs differently. 

As we mentioned before, there is never going to be an end to all the work. If you keep taking on extra tasks without setting boundaries, guess what? You are going to get more and more work! So, learn to say no and tell them what is possible and what's not possible.

5. Falling into the capability trap

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should! In times of crisis and high stress, it takes more cognitive ability to sit down, plan and delegate than it does to do the thing. 

As a result, you keep doing more and, before you know it, you have demoted yourself from whatever position you were supposed to be in – you're burning out and spinning wheels!

Here’s an easy way to help you from falling into the capability trap:

  • Delegate. What are things you can do but shouldn't? Can you delegate? Who else can do this task?
  • Delay. What can you renegotiate the timelines on? 
  • Delete. What can you get rid of? What was lobbed over the fence to you? Can you lob it back, or to someone else? Think of it like a hot potato.  

So there you go, our five tips for surviving some of the madness of 2020.

To find out more about how you can build up yours and your team members’ adaptability, feel free to get in touch: team@symbiapartners.com

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