The “overwhelmed employee” has received a lot of attention over the past few years. People have more and more work to do and are struggling to keep up with it all. People are spending less and less time with their families and not taking time to disconnect, switch off, and recharge. It has become quite hard to disconnect when we have constant access to our email, social networking sites, news, and other sources of distraction. Work is also becoming increasingly global which requires being “on” at times normally spent working out or with family.
The issue is that we lose sight of what is truly most important when we run from one thing to the next. The go-go-go mindset reduces one’s ability to think strategically and operate in a proactive manner. We feel that to be more successful, generate more revenue, or achieve that goal we simply need to do more. It doesn’t help that when we do deliver a great product or project we’re rewarded with more work. Many of us actually consider being busy a badge of honor. But the reality is that we have so much going on and are pulled in so many directions that we are left feeling overwhelmed and close to burning out. We wake up one morning and realize that years have passed in a haze of deadlines and conference calls. We’ve missed out on critical experiences with our kids, and we’ve lost touch of our true passions.
Here are some of the typical things I have heard from those in my network that are run ragged:
- I feel unhealthy. I don’t have time to make proper food, get enough sleep, or work out.
- The emails are constant. I feel like my phone is a vibrator that can’t be switched off.
- If I can just get through this next project I’ll have some breathing space.
- I just can’t keep up with all the firefighting.
I’m obviously painting a pretty dismal picture, but there is hope! While we can’t escape the reality of 21st-century business, steps can be taken and skills can be built to smash complexity in your life, take control, increase your energy, be more productive, and be generally happier. It’s time to begin to live simply.
Here are three steps you can take to simplify you:
- Reduce clutter
- Get clear on what is truly most important
- Avoid distractions and interruptions
We have become hoarders of stuff. Both professionally and personally, we retain too many things and let our lives become cluttered. We may not realize it, but all of this stuff weighs on our mind and contributes to a sense of losing control. A good first step in simplifying you is taking the time to declutter and reorganize. It is mentally liberating when we get rid of all the things that are not needed. It simplifies our environment, which subconsciously makes us feel less stressed and mentally scattered.
While it may seem challenging to find the time to declutter, it is certainly worth the investment. It is a valuable step toward taking control of your life and gaining the individual clarity that seems to be out of reach for most in today’s high-paced, scattered world. There really is something to be said for the minimalist movement that seems to be taking hold in many parts of the world.
Get clear on what is truly most important
One of the major issues with seemingly too much work and operating in a reactive, firefighting mode is that you lose focus on what is most important. Your time is spent on relatively lower-value activities as you get caught up reacting to requests or the latest issue. Your impact on the business is diminished, and it can seem hard to break free from it. Getting clear on what is most important, those things that will deliver the greatest impact on the business, will allow you to free yourself from the chains of reactive working and take control over your time and focus.
Take some time to answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of my role?
- How can I add the most value to the business?
- What are the most productive and impactful activities I do?
- How do I produce the best work?
- What do I need to produce my best work?
With the answers to these questions, you can begin to distill your professional priorities. The answers will reveal what activities and projects will have the greatest impact on the business and therefore your performance. It should also reveal how you can be most effective at delivering these most important things.
Avoid distractions and interruptions
How often do you check your phone? The average person does it 110 times a day, and this number is increasing all the time. Our smartphones have become so magnetic. We feel a constant pull from our phones to check if anyone has emailed us or liked or commented on a photo or a recent post, or to keep up on the latest news or sports scores. This addiction to our phones is massively distracting and interruptive and gets in the way of us producing our best work. It used to be the little red light from our Blackberry that resulted in us incessantly checking our phones, but now it is a little beep or a vibration of our smartphone. With the invention of smartwatches, we now can’t escape the interruptions as we receive a vibration on the wrist any time an email, text message, or app update is received. With advancing technology, there is an increasing number of sources of distraction and interruption.
Every time we are interrupted or distracted it breaks any concentration we may have been trying to cultivate. When our focus is broken our productive energy is wasted and it takes time and energy to get focus back. It is also so easy to get pulled into the thing that has interrupted you. You see a notification that someone has liked a LinkedIn article you have posted, so you go to see who it was. Once there, you see that there are other updates and one of your former colleagues has published an interesting new article. You decide to read it. On and on, one thing leads to another, and before you know it you’ve wasted an hour of your time that could have been spent working toward your highest priorities.
To help simplify your life and optimize your productivity and impact we need to have the discipline to not be tempted by our magnetic technology products. But you can make it easy on yourself by taking a few deliberate steps to remove or reduce the risk that our focus is broken during our productive times.
- Turn off all notifications on your smartphone. Go into the settings and turn off each notification associated with your email and for each application.
- If you’re not using it, switch it off. Any time you’re not using an application or internet page on your computer, exit out of it. The more things you have up in your computer, the more scattered you will feel and the more risk there is that you’ll get pulled from the most important work. According to one study, 57% of interruptions at work resulted from either social media tools or switching among disparate stand-alone applications.
- Schedule productive time on your calendar. During this period exit out of your email and enable the do not disturb function on instant messenger. Close all non-core applications on the computer. This means no internet. Turn off your phone or put it in do not disturb mode. And, if need be and you have a private office, inform your colleagues that if your door is closed you do not want to be disturbed.
- Allocate time for everything else. Schedule breaks on your calendar when you can catch up on your social media platforms, read up on the latest news, or engage in banter with your colleagues.
In this day and age, the opportunity to simplify our lives is significant. By decluttering, getting clear on what’s truly important, and reducing distractions and interruptions you can build the skills and discipline to simplify your world, get a handle on complexity, and take control of your productive capacity. While each component has been somewhat skimmed over in this article out of necessity, our smart habits training program goes into each of these categories in much more detail and provides exercises to nurture the habits.
Jesse Newton is the author of Simplify Work; Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity and Engagement. He is the founder and CEO of Simplify Work; a global management consulting firm that helps organizations throw off the shackles of debilitating complexity and reignite top performance.