If you're feeling overloaded, you probably are. Finding a way out of this condition will be easier if you recognize and accept how connected you are to the people around you. With regard to being overloaded at work, that connection expresses itself in two ways. First, you probably aren't alone in feeling overloaded. It's likely that others feel overloaded, too, and it's possible that everyone you know feels overloaded. Second, you can't fix the situation by yourself. When you eventually do find a path to a more reasonable workload, and then reflect back on how you found that path, you'll probably notice that many people contributed to the changes that made your workload more reasonable.
So there are these two sides to this connectedness. You're connected to others in that there are probably others who feel overloaded. And you're connected to others in that the change in your workload, when it comes, will have resulted from your own actions and the actions of many others.
Until that day arrives, there are three sets of insights that can lighten the load if earnestly applied.
- The overload might be a symptom of something deeper
- Although you might have some degree of control over the decisions and behavior of others, you probably have far more control over your own decisions and behavior. Be certain that you aren't contributing to your overload in ways that might not be obvious in the moment. What feels like overload might actually be the consequence of other counter-effective behavior.
- For example, a pattern of deferring unpleasant tasks can create overload because tasks deferred can eventually become both urgent and important. [Nelson 1983] When that happens, you have little choice but to address those tasks immediately. And if that happens at a time when you're heavily loaded, you can experience overload. But if you had addressed the unpleasant task earlier, an overload situation might not have arisen. What feels like an overload might actually be the result of procrastination.
- Other What feels like overload
might actually be the
consequence of other
counter-effective behaviorpatterns can also masquerade as overload. For example, perfectionism and micromanaging can create enormous amounts of unnecessary load. And engaging in bullying can create a need to spend time concealing one's nefarious and abusive activities.
- Saying "no" can work if it's caring and respectful
- In some situations, a firm and respectful "No" is all that's required to prevent additional tasks being added to your load. There are four traps to avoid when you say "no." Here are four guidelines for avoiding those four traps.
- Demonstrate sincere concern and respect. Don't be cavalier. Offer to work out a solution that might not create overload for you, by adjusting timing, or the nature of the task, or how much of the responsibility would be yours.
- If you predicted the problem that now appears to be headed in your direction, avoid saying "I told you so." That will only enhance the probability of toxic conflict. Instead, try to motivate an inquiry into the methods previously used to resolve similar issues.
- Deliver your "No" by declining first, then explaining why you must decline. A common alternative pattern that creates difficulty is a chain of reasons why you must decline, leading up to "No." That pattern creates trouble because the requestor can see the "No" coming well in advance of its arrival. When the "No" finally arrives, the requestor is ready with refutations of your reasons or a rejection of your "No." Delivering your "No" first creates the possibility for it to take root before the requestor can reject it.
- Take responsibility for your own "No." Avoid blaming someone else for the "fact" that you must decline the request. For example, it's a bad idea to assert without evidence that some other party has already claimed your time, or to claim that your honoring the request wouldn't be helpful because of some other blocking phenomenon. These third-party excuses are effective only if they're factual. Use them with extreme care.
- Know the difference between urgency and importance
- Humans tend to assess the priority of issues on the basis of their urgency and importance. When presented with two tasks of equal urgency, our choice is usually easy and sensible — we choose the more important one. And between two tasks of equal importance, we sensibly choose the more urgent one. But in other cases, humans tend to exhibit what has come to be called the mere urgency effect. [Zhu 2018] We tend to make choices biased in favor of urgency.
- Because of the mere urgency effect, when deciding whether to accept a request, or to suggest an alternative, or to decline, we're more likely to accept if the request is presented as urgent, even if the task in question is unimportant. And when we must decide whether to ask another to accept the request, or just do it ourselves without asking anyone else, we're more likely to assign the task to ourselves if we regard the task as urgent, even if it's unimportant.
- In these and many other scenarios, the mere urgency effect biases our choices in favor of increasing our workloads. To limit this effect, we must find a way to contemplate the importance of the request presented to us. That can be difficult when the urgency of the request seems to forbid careful contemplation. One tactic that might help: In each case, until demonstrated otherwise, regard urgency as a technique requestors might use to prevent our assessing the importance of their requests.
If you're overloaded at work, other people probably do play a role. But there are steps to take before trying to change the organization or its people. Careful thought about your own overload situation can provide insight as to its causes. Almost certainly some of the causes are within your power to address. Top Next Issue
Is your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Organizational Change:
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- On Beginnings
- A new year has begun, and I'm contemplating beginnings. Beginnings can inspire, and sometimes lead to
letdown when our hopes or expectations aren't met. How can we handle beginnings more powerfully?
- Training Bounceback
- Within a week after we've learned some new tool or technique, sometimes even less, we're back to doing
things the old way. It's as if the training never even happened. Why? And what can we do to change this?
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
See also Organizational Change and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info