'It's not what we do that makes us tired, it's what we don't do. The tasks we don't complete cause the most fatigue'.
One of the most common sources of stress and tiredness, both within and outside the workplace, is the perception of having too much to do. If you're feeling overwhelmed at the moment, you may already be slightly irritated by my use of the word 'perception'. You might argue, is this endless list of tasks I have to get done at work a 'perception'? Is this birthday party I have to organise, this weekend when my entire family are descending, the broken washer in the kitchen, the cat needing neutering, my son's school needing choosing, the local residents meeting to be attended and the computer needing fixing - are all these my 'perceptions'???
Well no, obviously not. What I mean is that it is the act of perceiving all the things you have to do that causes most of the stress. You wake in the morning, for example, and you're feeling nice and snug and warm and relaxed. Suddenly, all the things you have to do flood into your mind. Bye-bye warm relaxed feelings. You note that there are far too many things for the time, several items that are going to be difficult, and some things you don't want to do at all. You feel dreadful, and yet instead of getting up and starting, you lie in bed panicking.
Here's a story.
A professor was teaching a group of students. On the table was a large glass jar, a number of rocks, a bowl of sand and a jug of water. The professor selected a student.
'Please fill the glass jar with rocks,' the professor said. The student did so.
'Is the jar quite full?', the professor asked the students. The students agreed it was.
'Good,' said the professor, 'now pour the sand into the jar until it reaches the top.' The student did so. Again the professor asked if it was full, and the students agreed it was.
'Now pour the water in', came the next instruction.
The student did so, until the water reached the brim.
The problem is that when we're busy we're attracted to tackling the sand and water - small, often easily accomplished tasks, that allow us to tick lots of things off our list in a short time. We answer telephone calls, reply to emails, tackle our in-tray, pay bills, make appointments. Filling your time with these tasks ensures that the rocks, the things that are most important and will bring most satisfaction and reward if you do them, remain obstinately undone.
One of these 'rocks' is planning.
An overwhelmed client said to me recently:
'Something that goes straight out the window when I feel stressed is setting aside time to think. I know that it helps me to do that, but I'm too busy stressing out to do it.'
1. Make a time to do this exercise.
2. Sit down and make a list of absolutely everything you think you have to do within the next month.
3. Go through your list and for each one ask, "What will happen if I do this, and what will happen if I don't?" If there are no obvious benefits from doing something, or if nothing much will happen if you don't do it, why not cross it off your list?
4. For the things that do have to be done, ask yourself, "Does it have to be done by me?"
An unwillingness to delegate is one of the most frequent criticisms of bosses. There are two main reasons for people not wishing to delegate: they don't trust the other person to do the job properly, or the role is an important part of their sense of self worth, or both. I have often heard women say that they can't leave their children with their husbands for any length of time because they wouldn't be able to cope. In men it is more likely to be "the office will collapse without me" syndrome. Neither is true - the men will cope, and so will the office.
The price we pay for refusing to delegate is stress, and lots of it. What we've decided, whether consciously or subconsciously, is that the pleasure of thinking we are the only person in the world who can do a job properly is more important than either the quality of our lives, or the other people that might benefit from learning how to do it.
What could you delegate, and to whom?
5. For the items that you really do need to do, the secret lies, unsurprisingly, in doing them. Have a look at your list and choose one 'rock' you could do today, that would bring you lots of good feelings when you've done it. Make a time, and do it!
6. For other 'rocks' on your list, get your diary and schedule a few for the coming week. When you do them, you'll find that the sand and the water slip in around them surprisingly easily.
Have a stress-free week!