34 (1)Do you find you never have to buy lunch as you have too many lunchtime meetings or you often skip lunch?

Is your email box so full that you can’t send out that vital message as you’ve exceeded your quota?

Is your partner fed up with your Blackberry habit; you can’t resist checking your email even at breakfast?

Is your gym kit still clean as you’ve not made it to the gym after work as a takeaway and TV is more appealing?

Do you feel like this poor man, struggling against the wind which has blown away his umbrella?

Many people I talk to seem to be at breaking point. Managers are pressured by their directors to cut back on staff and budget yet achieve more. Their teams are stressed with the never ending workload and worry about their job prospects. Managers become the “filling” in a stress sandwich.

The knee jerk reaction when you are overloaded is to work harder, come in early, go home later, skip lunch and cut out co-worker chats at the coffee machine.

STOP!

Does this make sense? Where will it all end?

You can work hard for a short, intense time but it’s not sustainable. One of the first things to be affected is your health.

Swine Flu cases are ramping up here in the UK. Wherever you are, it’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed this winter and probably catch it. If it’s a mild case, you’ll be tempted to struggle to work, feel terrible and infect your team. Even if you stay at home, the lure of email will become too much. Your poor productivity and muddled decision making will make you feel even more depressed. I had mild Swine Flu (probably!) over the summer during a quiet week between projects so could take time off to be ill. I couldn’t have timetabled it better but very few of you have that luxury.

So what needs to change?

In the short term

Replace those bad habits with winning behaviours. Think 20 – 10 – 3 – 2 -1.
20 minutes, 10 seconds, 3 things, 2 people, 1 job.

20. Make sure you have a 20 minute break at lunchtime at least 3 times a week. It’s better to come in earlier and have a break than work nonstop all day. You’ll find you are not so tired at the end of the day and can cope better.
Ideally include a short, brisk walk outside. Raining or snowing? Use the stairs, not the lift during the day. Can’t get motivated? Find a trick that works for you. When I started running 5 years ago, I could barely do it for 5 minutes. I kept a “star chart” to motivate me to keep it up. 1 run = 1 red heart sticker on the calendar for that day. I hated to miss my run as my failure stared me in the face. Sad, I know, but it worked!

10. Feeling tense or stressed? Take a 10 second meditation (Thanks Sue Weston for the great tip!). Taking a deep slow breath in, raise your shoulders up as if they could touch your ears, hold briefly then quickly release your breath and drop your shoulders as far as you can. Still too tense? Repeat as often as you need.

3. Every evening before you leave work, jot down 3 important things that you must get done the next day. Your “to do” list may be so long it’s demotivates you. Focus on those 3 things, amongst the other calls on your time. You’ll get them done and start to feel good, not like you’re a loser.

2. A problem shared is a problem halved; 2 people helping each other. Try not to take your work problems home. Phone a friend!
You need a “moan-buddy” at work. Don’t dump your worries on your assistant, don’t dump them on your team. Find a friend and try this winning formula. Spend 5 minutes only moaning about your problem. Your friend has to reflect back what you said (active listening). Then it’s her turn for a 5 minute whinge. You’ll probably both feel much better. You may even have a solution to try out. Promise your friend that you’ll try it. He/she can check if you’ve done it. Time for tough love!

1. Delegate 1 important job to a team member. Managers often find delegation hard. They don’t like asking busy people to do even more. But your problem job may be someone’s job variety with the potential for career progression. No team or assistant to help? Do you need some short term help; could you use a contractor or consultant? I’m often asked to help extremely capable people who just have too much on their plate. Certain projects have to get done and budget can often mysteriously appear if it’s business critical.

Time to now focus on….

The Long Term

You know what I’m going to say….

Plan ahead. Work out when you have more intense work periods than others so try to spread the work. Can you do some in advance to avoid last minute panics later?
Learn to say no. Are you the only person who can do that job? Are you being dumped on? The most efficient, capable and agreeable people get the most work! There’s a way to say No assertively and not antagonise the other person. Learn to negotiate. Give and take means you both give and take, not you give and they take.
Stop being a perfectionist Not every job has to be 100%. Can you take short cuts? Does it have to be done? Right now?
Delegate more in advance With more warning, you are more likely to pass on important tasks to others.

and finally…..

Reward yourself.

We’re so busy focusing on the one task we haven’t done that we ignore the 10 things we have done. You’ll feel better about yourself, be clearer about prioritising and get more done.

Good luck! POSTSCRIPT. This has been so popular, it’s now a newsletter!