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The Pressure of too much to do

Original publication: HR.com
Original publication date: Nov 10, 2015

Jeremy is a typical employee. Typical in that he works extremely hard for many hours a week. Not 40 hours a week – that is a thing of the past. 50-60 hours a week is now easily the norm. He is typical in that it matters to him that he is productive, does good work and feels proud of his contribution.

He works at one of the largest consumer product organizations in the world. Known for its market dominance in beauty, health care and household care products, they operate in over 60 countries. His organization has had a tough couple of years as they are an industry that is sensitive to aslowing economy – and it has been a slow economy.

So he is being asked to increase productivity: accomplish more with fewer resources. Be more efficient.He is now responsible for far more areas of the business than at any other time in his career and with it he feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.Like many today, Jeremy expects – and delivers – high quality results and puts pressure on himself to continue to do so.He has a track record of achievementwhich he wants to build on.

As training and performance experts, if there is one characteristic that we have observed in our global work, it’s how universal it is to feel overwhelmed. It seems every organization we work with describes how their people feel like there is simply too much to do with too little time and too few resources. Not many organizations have rehired to pre-2008 capacity, back before the global financial crisis hit.What Jeremy is experiencing is getting very close to the Japanese term called Karoshi, which means death by overwork.

What to do if this is your experience?

Distinguish the difference between stress and pressure
While everybody feels stress and everybody experiences pressure, understanding the differences between the two is a requisite for learning how to do your best when it matters the most, especially in resource constrained environments. Why? Because we can waste precious time, focus and energy – the very things in short supply – if we don’t. Let me explain by differentiating the two.

You can think of pressure mo¬ments as stressful moments in which the consequences or results matter. In other words, pressure moments or situations might feel like stress in our bodies and in our thinking, but they are different because some¬thing — your success or your survival — is truly on the line.

A longer meeting than you ex¬pected or a colleague letting you down on deliverables might feel like a pressure situation when, in fact, it is a mild inconvenience that has no impact on the success of your day. If you don’t see this difference, you start to feel that you are always “under the gun,” that you always have to produce. You start to develop anxiety. Everything becomes super-important, which needlessly intensifies and elicits feelings of pressure. We react physically, mentally, and behaviorally in ways that are out of proportion to the circumstances. The danger lies in the fact that con¬tinually confusing stress for pressure habituates, and we lose the ability to think clearly. Misdiagnosing stress as pressure reduces our abilities needlessly.

Jeremy, the typical employee,was in charge of the sales orga¬nization of a large division of a pharmaceutical company. After a series of decent but not-great quarters and much change in the organization, the sales group was facing an important year in the business. Jeremytold us that the company’s kickoff event “will be the most important day” of his career. The most important day of his ca¬reer? A career that might span 45 years? To help Jeremy understand that this was not, in fact, the case, we suggested that Jeremy “slow down his thinking,” a technique that helps people keep perspec¬tive and thwart counterproductive self-statements.

Slow Down Your Thinking
When we are going a million miles an hour, we can miss what’s really going on. By slowing down his thinking– it can be helpful to write down the stream of thoughts in a notebookor to practice mindful meditation as a way to help slow down thinking –Jeremywas able to look a bit deeper and to accurately appraise the situation to see what was truly on the line.

It became clear to him that he was confusing stress for pres¬sure. He might have been feeling as if it was a pressure moment — but in reality, this was far from the most important day of his career. Yes, it was stressful. But his career and the survival of his company were not on the line, and did not revolve around this one particular event. And Jeremy came to see that his reaction to this kickoff was having a negative impact on the people around him, needlessly infect¬ing them with anxiety and diminishing their performance. By choosing what was truly important, Jeremy was able to marshal more resources to deal with real pressure situations. Additionally, he was able to tune into the pressures others were experiencing, a pressure reducer for them and a relationship builder for him.

Let go and Delegate
Yes, you have heard this before but it has never been as important as it is today. It is not simply that you cannot do everything you want to do today (you can’t), it is more about building the capability of your team to take more on. When Jeremystarted to delegate significant tasks and responsibilities to his team, they responded by stepping up. They felt more valued and that they were growing their skills and careers and this is the recipe for an engaged team.

In getting to your current position, you likely have had to be somewhat of a control freak. It may have served you well before, but moving forward, you need to lose that characteristic. If you do not let go and delegate, you will be your own worst enemy with no one to blame but yourself. Is your team not up to it? Change your team. Find a team that you trust (hire slow and fire fast) and delegate. They will appreciate it and respond and you will have more bandwidth to focus on the things that truly matter, likesucceeding inthe real pressure moments that have the biggest impact on your career and the success of your team.


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