REFLECTION: I’d bet good money – even my own – that every single one of you takes a run at setting your own priorities on a regular basis. You scratch out that ‘to do’ list on paper or in the back of your mind. You star a few key actions. You assign the biggies an A or mark them #1.
And more often than not, you find that the number of items that rank high on the list is still way beyond your capacity, given the resources (time, money, energy , etc) you have at your disposal.
This mismatch between workload and available resources is as an all too common concern. In fact, it’s no surprise that it ranks top of the list of causes of overload and overwhelm on my recent survey.
What I do find interesting, though, is that the approach that sits top of the list of best strategies for addressing the challenge of Overload and Overwhelm is ‘Resetting Collective Expectations’. Yes, individually prioritizing and reprioritizing sits number two on the list; but collectively resetting expectations aces that solo approach out of top spot.
The key message here is that it’s potential folly to ONLY address overload and overwhelm as individuals. The expectations and demands of others are a highly influential part of the equation.
One seminar respondent wrote about participating with colleagues in a division wide ‘Stop the Insanity Retreat’. Organizational team leaders spent their time at the retreat sifting through all of the worthy initiatives that were currently in front of their teams. They shifted several into the parking lot and designated them as great ideas that would NOT be part of their focus during the coming year. This allowed everyone to concentrate more realistically on initiatives that were most important and manageable, and to feel less overwhelmed in the process.
ACTION: What’s essential to a ‘Stop The Insanity’ approach? Here are a few starter ideas on this best practice:
* Tap the courage to raise the overload issue. Name the problem. It’s impossible to address it collectively if each person thinks it’s ‘just me’ that is struggling, and many are pretending or assuming that everything is AOK.
* Be open to and welcoming of overload challenges and ‘struggling progress’ reports. If you aren’t, you’ll be stuck making decisions based on poor information, as others fearfully withhold the facts about what’s really going on.
* Generate some breathing space to consolidate gains before launching a barrage of new initiatives.
* Collectively clarify direction and sequence key steps instead of trying to move all at once in too many directions. (Just try running a 3 legged race with multiple finish lines and see how successful any tied-together duo will be!)
* Limit the number of new and major initiatives that are launched at the same time. One or two stretch goals makes sense. Adopting a dozen stretch targets at once, especially on the heels of a recent run of ‘all out and all in’ initiatives, will guarantee that some thing or some one will snap.
* Assess resources needed for success in each initiative – and realistically compare to what you have on hand or might be able to free up elsewhere.
* Manage the expectations of clients, stakeholders, and other departments by setting limits in ways that ease the pressure on your team. Communicate the background assumptions and the data that informed your decisions. Don’t leave individuals hanging out to dry, defending a group decision. Support each other on the communication front once the lines of focus are redrawn.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The question then becomes not how to stop overload, but how to manage and assuage the feeling of being overwhelmed by it.” – Diana Kimball
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: Check out this description of a group prioritizing strategy adapted by a web developer. Includes link to a template that could be easily adapted for use in any arena when looking at a particular project. http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000018.php