Twelve- to 14-hour days are becoming the norm.
To-do lists keep getting longer.
You seem to be covering for everyone.
You’re not sleeping well, worried about dropping the ball or missing a deadline.
Your boss, the board, and even your family are breathing down your neck.
Are you overworked?
Maybe. Maybe not.
A family was driving from Wyoming to Arizona on vacation. A tire blew on their car and they had to pull over. Unfortunately, they had left the spare in the garage to make room for all of their luggage.
What to do? Noticing a sign for a gas station a half-mile ahead, they decided to push the car rather than spend extra money and time calling a tow truck. Working together as a family, they devised a system to keep the car moving along the median. Several hours later they arrived at the exit for the gas station, tired but feeling a sense of accomplishment. Even more powerful, though, was the stress Dad was experiencing from the delay.
Dad decided that the he didn’t have time to stop at the gas station. “We are going slow, but at least we are moving forward,” Dad announced. “We don’t have time to stop, or we won’t make it to our destination.”
Is Dad overworked?
Most of us would say Dad made some poor choices.
The problem might not be that you are overworked. Perhaps the problem is that you are overworking.
The difference between overworked and overworking is in taking responsibility for your choices.
In our executive communication training and coaching work, we come across this situation time and time again – a leader who believes she is overworked, feeling like a victim of circumstance, and barely keeping her head above water. Without realizing it, she has gotten into a habitual pattern of decision-making that drags her down.
Below are four common decisions that lead to overworking, along with solutions to take responsibility and take your life back. Could any of these be true for you?
1. I don’t have time to teach them.
The classic trap of failing to delegate because you can do it faster, better and smarter yourself.
Probably true. And your team feels disempowered. That reduces their initiative, leaving you to pick up the pieces. The end result is that you are doing other people’s work, justified that it wouldn’t get done without you.
Solution: Instead of thinking, and doing, for everyone else, and trying to control every outcome, check your ego at the door, delegate, let go and support others in learning to be capable. The end result will be a team of capable people instead of a strung-out leader with lazy followers.
2. I have to do it perfectly.
This is the myth of, “I’m only OK if I am perfect.” Many people around you will play off this fear and take advantage of you if you let them.
This myth is what keeps many organizations running at a fraction of their capacity. One truth is that you will never be perfect, and that’s OK because your worth as a human being never depended on it in the first place. A second truth is that to achieve that last 5 percent toward perfection takes exponentially more work than the 95 percent before it.
Solution: Pursuing excellence is great. Pursuing perfection is extremely inefficient. Knowing when to stop, and discovering how to learn from your mistakes, is a much quicker route to top performance.
3. I don’t have time to rest.
Slam another energy drink. Pop another sleeping pill. Keep going until you hit the wall. You are not working smarter, just harder. The “wall” may be an accident because you are trying to multi-task. Most likely it will include you losing control and doing something you regret. For some, it is a heart attack. Your body speaks its mind and will get louder and louder until you listen.
Solution: Stop. Breathe. Refuel. You are like a high performance machine that can only run at capacity when elegant care is taken to do proactive maintenance. Taking care of you should be on your to-do list every day. Diet, exercise, non-working time, relaxation. Whatever fills your tank. This isn’t selfish – it’s responsible.
4. I can’t say no.
Yes you can. You choose not to say no for a variety of reasons, and you give others a ton of power over you. You’ve done it so many times that you’ve convinced yourself it’s not your choice any more. Saying “can’t” instead of “won’t” is an excuse.
Solution: Recognize and own your choices. Saying yes to another task means nothing if you can’t say no when it crosses the line of what’s healthy for you. As crazy as it may seem, you will earn more respect when you assert healthy boundaries and focus on doing what you do best.
If you would like to stop overworking and begin taking responsibility for a more healthy life, develop your skills to delegate, avoid perfection, take care of yourself, and say no.