The overwhelmed epidemic
I have been meeting with a lot of executives lately that are finding this time of year to be overwhelmed with their work. Some execs are exhausted and burning out. One particular executive I’ve been speaking with continues to talk about long hours, exhausting cross country and international travel and no time with his family. The result? Deteriorating health and effectiveness and in his own words, “after 50 hours per week I’m only about half as good.” Many senior executives and business leaders struggle with this.
A complete fix for the overwhelmed executive
There are long-term solutions to this. Learning how to recruit A players, to delegate, and to trust more are some. Others would be doing a deep dive and discovering what is driving this at being overwhelmed at a core level. For example, it can be related to insecurity or a search for significance. To reduce the occurrence of feeling overwhelmed an executive might shift expectations or make fewer commitments.
If there is only time for a bandaid solution
However, in the moment of the overwhelmed crisis state, none of these long term solutions seem to bring a lot of comfort. This is where the individual needs a short-term plan just to manage and not sink.
The client I speak about above, regularly flies across the country to meet with me out west. While we are meeting he is distracted with emails and phone calls. This individual is never able to focus and complete one thing at a time due to being spread so thin and everyone needing him. He would say it’s already cost him a couple of marriages. His health is failing and his current priority relationships are suffering. Saying no is just too difficult.
It’s easy to say, “you have to learn to say no” which may be entirely true. However, in some ways that is like telling an addict they just need to stop using. It’s not that simple. Sometimes the first step needs to be something far different than no. You may call it a harm reduction approach, but it is often an important first step. This is the “yes, and…”
Take a teaspoon of the “Yes, and…” medicine
The “yes, and…” is responding to someone by saying, “yes” I can do that, “and, I’ll be able to meet with you to discuss it further next Friday at 10am or the following Tuesday at 3:30pm.” Sometimes mustering a “no” when you’ve never said no before is not reasonable. The “yes, and…” approach allows you to say yes. But, it also allows you to slightly manage expectations. This gives the overwhelmed executive permission not to drop everything he is doing today and respond to the request. Also, if you give the requester a couple of options, they will most often choose one of the options. They will know you are making their request a priority. Making something a priority doesn’t mean you need drop everything else.
Several other language approaches can also be helpful when your workload is overflowing and you are feeling overwhelmed. Things like: “I want to be able to do this well for you. I notice in my calendar that I have 3 flexible hours on Wednesday at the end of the month. I’d like to book that time now, so I can dive fully into this for you.” There are of course other nuances as well. By doing the “yes, and…” you are staying in a power position of your own life, you are being responsive in an affirmative way, and you don’t have to jump right to that impossible “no” that you’ve never yet been able to say.
- This week, try out the “yes, and…”approach a couple of times. Observe what it’s like to expand your usual response range and notice the response you get from the requester.
- Be sure to always validate how important the request someone is making is to them, and therefore to you (assuming it is).
- While trying this interim approach to surviving a demanding workload and expectations of others, consider coaching to do a deeper dive and seek a deeper level change and transformation.
- Remember, there is no research evidence to suggest that greater workload creates stress. Stress has nothing to do with workload, and everything to do with how we manage and take control over and make decisions regarding our workload.