Working Smarter

Be Quick But Don't Hurry: Speed Kills Productivity and People

Posted by Joe Robinson

Woman with time urgency.jpg

IF THERE'S ONE little adjustment that could make a giant difference in work-life balance and job satisfaction this year, I would vote for an end to hurry-worry. I’m talking about that hyperventilating habit of rushing through every minute of the day at work—and at home—as if you were a stampeding wildebeest.

Time panic. It’s everywhere these days, hyped up by instant technology and instant expectations. “Hey, did you get that email I sent two minutes ago?" Pretty soon they’re going to call you up and say, “Did you get that email I haven’t even sent yet?”

THE SPEEDWAY FALLACY

We’re all on a speedway these days, one driven by a fallacy that “as fast as you can” is the goal, when mindless rushing is the foundation for muchf of what ails brains, teams, and productive endeavor. It drives frenzy, frazzle, false urgency, crisis mentality, stress, burnout, and a host of pointless mistakes that happen when the brain in hijacked by an ancient interloper that believes every minute of the day is an emergency. 

Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t. Speed for speed’s sake is the wrong goal, unless you like the churning stomach, temper tantrums, and mistakes of false urgency.

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Autopilot mechanical momentum, minus thought, undermines productivity. We need informed performance—mobility, having our faculties functioning while we focus on the task at hand, not the clock.

It’s not a sprint to the death we’re on; it's a marathon. That means we have to move with deliberate speed, and for that we need the capacity to think and focus, which isn’t there when rushing.

JACK BE QUICK

The great basketball coaching legend, UCLA's John Wooden, had the best description of how we should approach a swift result. He said, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” It’s a brilliant principle for any organization or individual. Yes, you want to move at a good pace but not at one that mars your thinking, which is what hurrying does. In my time management and work-life balance programs, we focus on quickness and qualifying urgency.

On the basketball court, hurrying triggers forced shots, turnovers, and charging fouls, because it sets off stress-addled emotions. Being quick, though, means you move swiftly but under control. We are not under control when we’re in hurry-worry mode. The ancient part of the brain that thinks you’re going to die unless you race all day sets off the stress response and the catastrophic, shallow, and rash thinking that accompanies it.

Time urgency used to be restricted to Type A personalities and the super-important deadline. These days, thanks to technology, shorter attention spans, and the endangered species of patience, we’re all caught up in it.

All Type A’s are stuck with time urgency, which is a fixation with the passage of time and a compulsion that every second of the day should be jammed with as much production as possible. That goes for when you’re at home too, so time frenzy is very insidious. It wants to book up all your time outside the office too, which kills work-life balance. How do you get any recharging in when you have to fill every moment with production? We need to stop filling time and make our off-hours more fulfilling.

Rushing kicks thoughts from the top floors of the brain to the rote and panicked floors, which accounts for the rash emails, the impulsive decisions, and the shift from thoughtful analysis of the next move to frenzy and nonstop commotion, which isn’t forward motion.

SPRINT TO THE DEATH

There's a reason why we have laws to prevent speeding on highways and railways. Nobody would want a surgeon trying to set a speed record for brain surgery slicing into their skulls.

Researchers have found that rushing is bad for your work, health, and life. Managerial activities that require complex decision-making and long-term future planning are hindered by time urgency (Abbott, Sutherland). Time frenzy is also a heart attack risk (Cole). The pattern goes like this: Impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger, which leads to clogged arteries. Time urgency can also lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion (Conte).

Exhaustion is a common side effect of hurry-worry, because implicit in the behavior is a false belief that you have to get something done faster or get somewhere speedier than is possible. One eye is always on the long list of things to do after you race through the current task. So there’s a futility in reflex rushing, a frustration with yourself and others that you can never do it fast enough.

The thing about time urgency, though, is that most of it is self-inflicted. We create arbitrary self-deadlines. I’m going to get this done by 12. I’m doing to do this in 10 minutes. People with time frenzy, and especially Type A’s, always overestimate their ability to get things done quicker than the reality dictates. We often box ourselves in with these overestimates of our speediness by telling others that, sure, we can get that done by some super-fast, unrealistic deadline. Always build in extra time, scope creep, to keep youreself from overpromising and underdelivering.

TURNING OFF THE RACETRACK MIND

Awareness of this habit is the first step to curing it. Since time frenzy turns on the stress response, you are going to know when you’re rushing for nothing by the stress symptoms that appear in your body—racing stomach, tightening in the neck, rapid heartbeat, digestion issues, insomnia. When you feel these cues going off, step back and ask, What is the emergency?

Turning off the racetrack mind of hurry-worry restores focus in the moment and takes fixation off the clock and to-do list so that we can harness attention for the task at hand. Not taking the rushing bait allows you to feel in control of events, instead of at the mercy of a world out of control. That allows you to manage demands instead of having them manage you.

And, what might be the most important thing about dumping this habit, you have permission in your life outside the job to enjoy hobbies, do exercise, and live life without the nagging that you should be doing something productive every spare second. That is the real measuring stick in our later years, so you're going to feel productive and satisfied if you can look back and see a life fully lived.

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Tags: employee stress management, time urgency, rushing and productivity, patience and performance

How to Turn Off Stress Instantly and Be as Smart as Your Dog

Posted by Joe Robinson

Dog barking.jpg

YOU DON'T SEE a lot of dogs running corporations or doing brain surgery, but in some ways they are a lot smarter than humans. Take, for instance, how they respond to a stressful event, say, a neighbor and his dog from up the block passing by the perimeter of your house. Your dog gets a whiff of that intruder, and bam! Let the barking begin.

That makes dogs great security guards and sometimes the bane of neighbors. When the dog reacts, its ancient defense mechanism, the amygdala—the same organ that sets off human fight-or-flight hormones—goes off with the timeless trigger built to insure survival through instantaneous recognition of danger and immediate response.

LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED

Now what happens after the stranger dog has gone on to sniff the tree trunks, grass, and hydrants blocks away, or heads home for some Kibbles 'N Bits? Does your dog keep barking for another two hours? Two days? Two weeks? Two months? Two years? No way. The dog drops the event like it never happened. Once the incident is over, the stress response is gone, dropped like an old chew toy.

That’s what makes your dog smarter than you. Because we keep barking long after the stressful even is over. We hang on to the stressful event, clinging to the undertow of emotions as if we were caught in a riptide pulling us out to sea and don’t know how to swim.

But, of course, we do know how to swim, or at least most of us. We just don’t know the special technique of swimming out of a riptide, which is current formed by a trough in the ocean floor that sucks swimmers away from shore. You don’t swim for the shore into the teeth of the rip current. You swim lateral to the shore until you’re out of the rip, about 50 yards or so, and then you can swim back to the beach, no problem.

Just as there is a method to outfoxing a riptide, there are ways to avoid being swept away by the irrational emotions set off by stress. We are not helpless. We have the power to shut off stressful incidents right after they happen and avoid turning them into false beliefs we ruminate about for months on end, something we learn in my work life-balance and stress management training programs and one-one-coaching.

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Cutting stress off at the pass after it goes off is crucial because if we don’t, the emotions triggered by our ancient defense equipment—which aren’t designed for the social stressors of the modern world, like work stuff—will feed your brain with catastrophic thoughts. Remember, a part of your ancient brain thinks you’re going to die that second, which is why the stress response is activated. Those thoughts, then automatically set off consequences fueled by berserk, raw emotions.

YOU CONTROL HOW LONG THE STRESS LASTS

Because they are in our head, we think the thoughts are true. The longer they remain unchallenged, the more the rumination about them will convince us that the false beliefs and worst-case scenarios are valid. Then we’re stuck with them for days, weeks, months, and, yes, even years.

Managing stress is a function of perceived control over demands, known as cognitive appraisal. Stress is relative, in other words, to how much control you feel over demands. When something sets you off, you surrender control to the emotions of the moment, when you don’t have to. This creates an out-of-control state that drives more stress.

The fact is you control quite a bit more than you know. You control how long the emotional reaction lasts and the story that sets off the emotions with the stress response. It’s not the external event that causes stress; it’s your reaction to it, the story you tell yourself about the stressful event. The catastrophic story set off by the caveman brain—I’m going to lose my job, I’ll never be loved again—can be countermanded if we can take a cue from our dogs and drop the whole thing.

This is something we can do by creating a new, factual story in which the rational mind of the 21st century brain can take back control from the clutches of the ancient brain. When stress is activated, the perceived threat streams straight to the neurons in the original brain, the limbic system and its chief sentinel, the amygdala, hub of the emotional brain, bypassing the prefrontal cortex and hijacking our modern faculties. We have to be able to catch ourselves when we feel the emotions of stress go off and reframe the story we’re getting by rousing our analytical brain.

ARGUE WITH YOURSELF

This means we have to argue with ourself and dispute the false beliefs set off by the fight-or-flight response. How do we do that? First, we identify the false story that switched on the danger signal. What pushed your button and made your ancient brain feel you are about to die? What made you feel you couldn’t cope or handle something, which is the caveman brain's instant trigger—something beyond coping capacity? What form did the imminent demise take? I’m going to lose my job? I’m embarrassed because I made a mistake? I’ll never be a success?

Next, round up the evidence of what happened, looking at the facts, and determine what the most likely story is, not the most catastrophic. What other causes are there for the event other than the worst-case scenario?

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One of the things that fans the exaggerated thoughts of the stress response is that we take the event as permanent and personal, which jacks up the fear and panic by making everything appear hopeless and directed at you personally.

NEVER TAKE IT PERSONALLY

To escape these boxes and drop the event as adeptly as a cocker spaniel, we need to see the situation as changeable, specific to factors that only happened in this instance, and not take it personally. Things happen in the world. You live in the world, so things happen to you. Taking things personally unleashes emotions, ego, and an irrational state that blinds us to the fact that this approach is a complete waste of time.

Then you create a new story, write it out on a piece of paper or put it on a screen, one that shows how you are going to solve this challenge going forward. Say there’s a tough deadline causing you to think you can never meet it. You tell yourself you can handle it, because you always wind up handling it in the end. I can do it by unloading other to-do's that aren't as much of a priority, getting more support, delegating, changing aspects of the deliverables, negotiating more time, breaking it down into daily chunks I can do first thing each morning, or whatever reasons you can find. What's your new story to solve the stressor, something you're going to take action on?

The key to the practice is catching yourself in the act of stress, so you can use your modern brain to find out what’s under the stress, what’s under that, and so on until you have unmasked the bogus belief, which lets your brain know that it’s not a life-or-death emergency.

When your brain knows the alarm is false, the stress response stops in four minutes. And you have shut off stress before it can entrench false beliefs that lead to rumination and emotions that keep us self-inflicting for weeks and months on end.

As a reminder of your new role model, purchase a chew toy from your local pet store and put it on your desk. When stress goes off, grab that toy and drop it, symbolizing the canine approach--and then go after the false story and create a new one that make you as smart as a Yorkshire.

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Tags: employee stress management, turning off work stress, stress response, job stress, controlling stress, managing stress reactions

Why Talking to Yourself isn't Crazy But a Very Smart Tool to Cut Stress and Manage Your Mind

Posted by Joe Robinson

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It used to be that talking to yourself was a sign that perhaps a chat with a health professional was in order. Today, when the guy in the cereal aisle is carrying on a conversation about Cinnamon Toast Crunch all by himself, there is no longer any worry about mental faculties. He’s obviously got an earpiece and is double-checking by phone with the supply chief at home to make sure he doesn’t make someone very unhappy with his choice. Cereal can be very personal.

There’s a new respectability to verbalizing out loud without a soul around, and there should be. It turns out that bringing thoughts from the head into the world of experience is a powerful tool to help humans focus, remember, keep anxiety at bay, and self-regulate. If you are not talking to yourself out loud, you are missing out on a force that can overcome the biggest obstacle to healthy functioning: the thoughts in our own brains.

SPOKEN WORDS CURB BAD HABITS

There is a lot of flotsam and jetsam washing in and out of our minds every day. Using key phrases out loud can override the noise and cue us to what we need to be emphasizing, prioritizing, or focusing on amid all the interior babble.

Researchers have found, for instance, that if you need to pay attention to something, you can get neurons to perk up and do just that by telling yourself out loud that you’re going to focus on a task like a laser. That command breaks through chaos and prompts increased attention.

Peter Gollwitzer at New York University has shown the power of stating your intentions out loud to strengthen prospective memory and prime the brain to replace a bad habit with a good one. Gollwitzer is creator of the implementation intention, one of the best devices to both remember something you have to do and get rid of a habit you don’t want. The technique is based on stating a future intention in an if-then statement. “If I see chocolate cake, then I’m going to avoid it.” Saying the if-then phrase out loud a couple of times builds a habit that counters the impulse of immediately scarfing down the cake next time you see it.

The implementation intention is an awesome weapon to help reduce stress, guilt, time frenzy, and a host of other autopilot habits that self-inflict dramas in our life. Yet it wouldn’t have nearly the encoding power on brain neurons if you just kept it to yourself and didn’t state it out loud. The goal gets lost in the thought factory; the commitment isn’t so resolute without the verbalization.

MOTIVATIONAL CUES

I’m a big believer in using the spoken word to counter ruminative thought and buoy motivation. It’s something we use strategically in my work-life balance and stress management programs to cut off emotional reactions at the pass and build better attention.

Speaking out loud to yourself works on several levels. It’s great as an instructional tool, helping you focus on how to do a new task as you’re doing it. “Step forward and pivot 180 degrees,” helps you concentrate and make the dance move. “Make sure the shelf is facing the right direction” prevents the IKEA misadventure.

Spoken strategic phrases also serve as motivational cues to help keep eyes on the prize. A study that measured the impact of out-loud self-talk showed that basketball players who used motivational phrases increased skills that involved speed. Instructional phrases improved skills that required accuracy and timing.

Another area that spoken phrases are very effective at is managing stress. Catching yourself with a loud “Stop!” as you slam a table can shut down the rumination factory of catastrophic thoughts and awfulizing. Phrases such as “Move on!” and “Don’t react” are also good at extracting us from the entrainment of negative thinking.

IT'S HOW YOU SAY IT

It’s not just what we say to ourselves, but how we say it that can calm a boiling mind. A fascinating study led by Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan found that verbal self-talk can provide psychological distance from ourselves and emotions stirred up by the egocentric brain. When we frame our actions more objectively under social stress by referring to ourselves in the second- or third-person, instead of the usual first-person, we increase self-regulation over our thoughts and anxieties 

“Psychological distancing strategies enhance people’s capacity to exert self-control when faced with tempting options in the short term,” Kross and colleagues write. In the study, they found that non-first person pronouns and using your own name, as pro athletes often do in interviews, creates more neutral thoughts and behavior under social stress.

If I was to say, “Joe Robinson can handle this meeting” out loud or “You can get that big project started,” I would be framing an impending stressful event more as a challenge than a threat, the signal of something beyond coping capacity that turns on the stress response.

Emotional distancing is key to almost all stress reduction techniques. The idea is to view a stressful scenario as a friend or lawyer for yourself would—detached or non-personally. Taking things personally is the default reaction when emotional reactions go off, and that keeps them going. We have to turn off the personalization to be able to turn down the emotions and bring back our 21st century analytical brain, which gets hijacked by the ancient emotional brain in a threatening moment.

When we bring thoughts into experience by uttering them, they achieve more weight. We take the thought, action, and us more seriously. The same goes for limiting things we might say about ourselves to ourselves or to others—such as “I can’t handle this,” “I’m overwhelmed,” or “these things always happen to me.” We box ourselves in to the stress response and pessimism with language like that, whereas statements that frame a positive intention can provide a healthy path forward.

It makes sense that talking out loud should work, since that’s the way we win any argument with somebody else. You don’t persuade through mind-reading but through the use of oral language. The sound of the voice makes it real.

Thoughts aren’t real, only experience is. Talk to yourself, and you cut through the clamor of internal self-talk to focus on the motivating words or the self-distancing phrase that can help you make the right choice under pressure. Like in that cereal aisle. Say it three times: "Cinnamon Toast Crunch," and you won't forget.

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Tags: employee stress management, self-talk, managing the mind, talking to yourself, self-motivation, stress reduction techniques

The Power of Patience: Antidote to Stress, Frenzy, and Overwhelm

Posted by Joe Robinson

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“Patience” is a word we normally hate to hear, because it usually means we have lost ours. Being reminded that we need to take a minute when we are in a state of hyper time frenzy is like being told to keep calm when you are verging on a primal scream. It’s a concept the emotions refuse to allow in when we are swept away by frenzy and frazzle.

In a world of permanent rush hour, patience seems like some obsolete remnant of a quainter time, something from a do-gooder’s list of manners, something that develops character and all that. Yet this increasingly rare act of discipline is the antidote for much of what ails us in the modern workplace and life. Deploy it, and you kill time urgency, overwhelm, irritability, and a lot of stress. Used regularly, it can do wonders for work-life balance, stress management, and productivity. Are we up to it in an immediate gratification world?

WHAT ATTACHMENT?

First, let’s see where impatience has gotten us. The reflex to race through the day, multitask, short-circuit brain cells with information overload, be in constant texting contact, and go for the next source of stimulation has helped to shrink the average human attention span to eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. That makes things difficult, since attention is the chief productivity tool.

There are all those embarrassing emails filled with typos and missing attachments. How many times have you sent an email raving about an attachment and forgot to send it? 

Impatience drives multitasking, resulting in the appearance of speed—and more than a few mistakes, since rushing kicks thinking down to the rote and panicked floors of the brain. Research from the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt, among others, shows that multitasking actually slows you down. Brain neurons have to go through a “where was I last time I was here and where was I going?” exercise each time they jump back and forth between tasks, which slows productivity by more than 40%, according to David Meyer at the University of Michigan.

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The forces of impatience can’t resist self-interrupting to check email, and that makes work take longer. Constant interruptions to check mail erode the chief tool of anyone trying to get anything done: concentration. The more you check email, the more you have to check it. Interruptions erode impulse control, the discipline you need to resist time-wasting tangents.

THE WHIP OF HURRY-WORRY

Without functioning self-regulation equipment to calmly direct attention and avoid temptations, it takes more time to get work done and aggravates stress as time urgency cracks the whip of hurry-worry. Impatience puts us on edge, a few hairs away from irritability and anger—and clogged arteries. Studies show that’s the pattern time frenzy follows, leading to heart attacks. Now there’s a time-waster. Think about all those things you won’t be able to get done if you are suddenly demised.

Impatience leads to a host of bad outcomes—lashing out, curt emails, impulsive decisions, conflict with tortoises moving too slowly for your liking, and simmering anger that smolders away in your body and contributes to heart disease. One 2007 study from the University of South Carolina found that anger led to a 1.7 times higher chance of developing hypertension, with a 90% increased risk for coronary heart disease.

Hurry-worry makes you think you have no time to plan your priorities each morning, talk with a colleague or supervisor to distribute workload more effectively, and push the go-button before a report, product, or post has been analyzed and thought enough about to release into the world. Patience is the grown-up in the room; impatience the adolescent.

Patience doesn’t mean moving at the speed of a tree sloth. It is what is known as deliberate speed, informed performance, thought before action, not hurrying. As the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once put it, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

It’s the hurrying that drives mistakes, since we’re operating at a speed faster than brains can manage well. This is the realm of mistakes and the home of the stress response, which interprets time urgency as if every minute of the day was an emergency—which turns on the stress response. With friends like ourselves around, who needs enemies?

FALSE URGENCY

We can work swiftly without the attention deficit of hurrying and the sabotage of what’s known as System 1 thinking—jump-off-the-cliff, impulsive thinking, minus considered options. That means bringing awareness to your pace. Are you hyperventilating? Racing for nothing? Catch yourself and bring attention back to the moment. Is it an emergency or a speed trap? Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when you haven’t taken time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t.

Are you working frantically with one eye on the stack of to-do’s? Focus on one task at a time, which is all you can do anyway. When the goal is just to get things done so you can get to other things that need to be done, you don’t have attention on the tasks you are doing. Productivity is all about the present, not what’s next on the list.

Studies show that when we are patient and absorbed in the moment of what we’re doing we like what we’re doing more, remember it longer, are at our happiest, and can experience the power of optimal experience, when our skills meet a challenge 

Patience allows us to work smarter, more efficiently, and more in control of our world. This is crucial to preventing stress. The more control we feel we have over events, the less stress we have. Patience gives you perceived control by providing attention unhijacked by frenzy and the hurry-worry of trying to be somewhere you’re not.

Yes, we all have time pressures to deal with, but we can handle it without resorting to frantic default rushing and stress. Much of the time the race pace is fueled by self-deadlines that we have created and set up ourselves with. “I’m going to get this project done by four o’clock.” We rush to make that time and get angry when we don’t.

The gift of patience is that it is something within our control. All we have to do is to take a breath, recalibrate the false urgency of frenzy to the calm of attention, and exercise this act of discipline as one of the best tools to turn down pulse rates, bad moods, and irritable days. It’s a choice.

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Tags: overwhelm, multitasking and stress, employee stress management, time urgency, stress and patience

The 7 Signs of Burnout

Posted by Joe Robinson

Burnout is a medical condition

I’m a longtime fan of the Candid Camera show. People being themselves can be funnier than the most brilliant comedian. I recently stumbled upon an episode of the show, which featured a woman driving a car minus an engine. She pulls in to a gas station by coasting down an adjacent hill. When the dead vehicle comes to a halt at the station, the woman complains that it won’t start.

The mechanic looks under the hood, and to his surprise, finds a gaping void. “The reason the car won’t go is you ain’t got no engine,” he says. Another mechanic peers in to the vacant space where the engine should be, scratching his head. The driver tells them the car has been working fine.

NO GET-UP-AND-GO

It reminds me of what happens to people whose engines have vanished, their get-up-and-go extinguished by burnout. Burnout doesn’t just kill physical vitality, motivation, and any semblance of work-life balance, it also guts the entire internal combustion machinery. You can’t get the ignition to turn over, because there’s nothing to turn over. 

Unlike with the gag car, we can’t look under the skin and spot the problem. But the void is as real as inside that vehicle, and we have to recognize it and resolve it or pay with serious consequences for work, health, family, and life. 

In an always-on world, many will face burnout at least once in their careers, and once they do and recover from it, they will never go down that road again because of the misery it inflicts on every part of work and life. Burnout can lead to major health issues.

I have coached hard-working people with burnout from every part of this country and from Switzerland to Australia, and helped them cut off the chronic stress that drives burnout. Feeling without energy or drive is an alien feeling for all of them. In fact, it's the opposite of who they have always been, since people who get burned out are not slackers--they're the hardest workers.

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Burnout isn’t just being very tired, which it is (the main dimension is exhaustion). It’s a serious medical condition that can set off other problems—depression, stroke, suicidal thoughts, breakdown. The last stage of chronic stress, burnout occurs when all your energetic resources—emotional, physical, and mental—have been used up.

With no resources left to counter the catastrophic thoughts of stress, it’s hard to contest false beliefs triggered by an ancient part of your brain that thinks you are about to die. Instead of being able to marshal analytical thought or physical willpower to fight back, there’s nothing, a void where the engine used to be. That feels very odd and fragile to people who have always had the ability to bounce back.

DIRE THOUGHTS

Burnout is a cumulative process, in which the alarm signal of stress goes off day in and day out for a long period of time. The stress response is only supposed to go off for a brief time until you can fight or run your way out of danger, because the process it sets off is extremely harmful in large doses. The stress response suppresses the immune system, tissue repair, and digestion processes to drive blood to the arms and legs to fight or run from danger, so the longer chronic stress lasts, the more damage it does to your body and the more resources it depletes. The stress response increases the bad cholesterol and reduces the good kind.

The usual response is to soldier on, but that doesn’t work with burnout, since by the time you have it there are no coping resources left. You're left with severe fatigue and feeling that nothing really matters anymore--job, success, people you know, everything. 

The way out of burnout is to reach out. When we are sick, we go to the doctor, but when it comes to stress and burnout, we are reluctant to get the expertise to turn off the stress response and get healthy. Studies show that one of the most effective ways to overcome burnout is through stress management coaching. From my experience helping people escape the burnout cycle, I can tell you that the courage to reach out unlocks the door to restoring your health.

Stress and burnout thrive on silence, not saying anything, because the engine of it all is thinking and rumination. It's ruminating over and over about a stress trigger that keeps the perceived danger alive and making your organs work overtime, even when you are sleeping. If you have burnout, I strongly urge you to reach out. We offer a free initial consultation. I strongly urge you to take advantage of this opportunity.

When you are burned out, someone who has always hurled themselves into their work can't bear the thought of working. For people who have defined themselves by performance, it feels shameful. But it’s not. It’s a physical condition that has to be dealt with in the same way as other serious illnesses, by rooting out the cause and rebuilding the body and mind.

Persistence is a great trait, but not at the expense of the immune system and organization.  Let’s take a look at seven key signs of burnout that need to be recognized and acted upon to prevent a cascade of physical and psychological issues and bring back the joy of living.

 7 MAJOR SIGNS OF BURNOUT

 1. Severe exhaustion. You can barely get up in the morning. There’s no desire to do anything that involves effort. Just the thought of work, of doing what you do well but have overdone, can make you physically sick.

2. Excessive workload. Excessive workload drives stress and prevents the body from physical recovery and the mind from replenishing mental resources. It leads to little sleep, bad diet, no exercise, and unrelieved stress, and eats away at the immune system. Physical exhaustion leads to mental and emotional exhaustion.

3. Cynicism. There seems to be no point to anything, no sense of accomplishment anymore. What used to fuel—pride, service, ambition, challenge, even money—seems meaningless. Belief, in the profession, achievement, anyone else, it's pointless.

4. Emotionally draining work. Burnout was first identified in social workers whose clients and large case loads burned up excess emotional resources. If your work involves intense emotional demands, and there’s nothing to replace those resources or help with them, the constant stress can dry up adrenal glands, causing severe physical fatigue and a lack of defense chemicals to manage stressors.

5. Absence of positive emotions. This is one of the hallmarks of burnout. A brain on chronic life-or-death watch from chronic stress fixates on the perceived emergency, on threats, resentments, problems. Even what you used to enjoy outside work feels meaningless. 

6. Catastrophic thoughts. Burnout leads to dire thinking. It colors everything dark and strips away the will and effort to change the situation. It sets off awfulizing and worst-case scenarios on a grand scale. “I can’t do this job anymore." "I won't be able to take it." "Why bother?” It’s all coming from an ancient part of your brain that doesn’t know how to interpret the social stressors of the modern world. It feeds false beliefs, and there are no coping resources left to fight them.

7. Lack of support or rewards. When you go beyond the call of duty over and over, it can lead to a loss of emotional and physical resources. You may be able to work long hours for a while, or for rewards that make you feel the work and you are worthwhile, but when there’s no payoff for going the extra mile, all that’s left is exhaustion and resentment. You wind up detaching yourself from everyone and everything, lose social support, a key resource, and have no opportunity to feel effective, a core need.

Burnout can happen in any industry, from engineering, to healthcare, to administrative assistants who work for nonprofits or even churches. Take proactive steps to reach out. Burnout can seem like the end, but it’s not. With changes to how you work, think, and take care of yourself, you can make a complete recovery and, with keys to work-life balance, put the engine back under your hood.

Learn about our stress management and burnout prevention coaching by clicking on the button below:

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Tags: awfulizing, catastrophic thoughts, employee stress management, reducing burnout, burnout coach, stress and burnout, stress management, job stress, burnout, job burnout, stress management programs

5 Ways to Manage Crazy-Busy Work

Posted by Joe Robinson

 Crazy_guy.jpg

Brian, a VP for a large tech firm in San Diego, gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and spends two hours plowing through messages at home before he goes to work. “It just seems futile some days,” he says. “Like I can never dig out.”

It’s a feeling that cuts across many organizations today. I heard a lot of similar stories from executives at the Supply Chain Leaders in Action conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I gave a workshop on how to deal with the central fact of work-life these days: Crazy-Busy Work. The executives I spoke to, from Safeway to Starbucks, were drowning in email, interruptions, and trying to do multiple things simultaneously.

Crazy-Busy Work isn’t just a problem for individuals, it’s a major productivity issue for organizations, since it drives disengagement, burnout, shrinking attention spans, poor decision-making, and creates a style of work based on autopilot reflex, action before thought. When we operate in defensive mode, reacting to the incoming, instead of managing the practices that drive overload, it takes longer to get the work done and we make a lot of mistakes.

DIGGING OUT

The truth is, the way we work isn’t based on what the science says, or anything at all. Most of us are simply reacting to people and devices all day. The number one productivity goal of every organization should be to use the data on what works to help teams dig out from under the siege of devices, interruptions and information overload.

It may seem hopeless, but it’s not. A series of adjustments to work style and how we manage demands, from devices to multitasking and stress, can turn it around, so that we are less crazed and more productive. As the mariners say, we can’t control the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

 

If your organization would like to rein in Crazy-Busy Overload and the reduction in productivity that comes with it, here are five keys to getting it under control:

1. Control Time Urgency.  The unconscious habit of rushing is the “Crazy” in Crazy-Busy. It drives frenzy and false emergency, making your team think every minute of the day is an emergency. It has been shown by researchers to be a heart attack and burnout risk even for people in their thirties. Speed isn't the key factor; velocity is, conscious movement in the right direction.

Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t. It’s a speed trap easy to get caught up in, since time panic and the stress it sets off is very contagious. We are hardwired to pick up on the emotions, facial expressions, and tone of voice of others. It’s part of our social bonding equipment, but it’s destructive in this case. We have to opt out of the frenzy, and ask when we’re rushing, is it an emergency or is it a speed trap?

2. Set the Terms of Engagement with Devices. An unbounded approach to devices, allowing messages to avalanche in at any time, is not sustainable. Every email results in six emails, three going, three coming back. The average corporate user today gets 133 emails and 77 Instant Messages per day.

The solution lies in adjusting how we respond to email. Instead of allowing devices to set the terms of engagement, we have to do it, by checking email at designated times and keeping mail software and noisemakers turned off unless they're in use, and by doing what some leading companies are—mandating less email and more phone messaging. An email etiquette handbook or norm guide is a great way to make sure that humans are setting the terms of engagement.

3. Increase Attention. The chief productivity tool, attention, is under siege these days from interruptions, devices, and multitasking, which researcher David Meyer at the University of Michigan says slows you down. The result is shrinking attention spans that can’t find the space to concentrate. That means it takes longer to get the job done, and there’s more sense of overwhelm as the devices and their “bottom-up” attention make our days feel out of control.

The more you check email, the more you have to check it. Impulse control is eroded by interruptions and the increased stress they trigger (up to 105% more annoyance, a study by Bailey and Konston showed). Strategies to build attention and manage interruptions are essential to keep fractured brains focused on task.

4. Set Boundaries. Technology has blurred perimeters and boundaries and created the illusion that we can do it all because we have our digital friends at our side. The reality is that this is an illusion. Brains go down well before the body does, brain scientists tell me, and take the work down with them.

We are not hard drives with hair, and when we try to be, productivity and health suffers. Harvard researchers Nash and Stevenson say that boundaries are a success tool, something we can all get better at. What boundaries does your team need, and how can they make them more effective? Our productivity program gives you a batch of tools to choose from.

5. Refuel Energy. Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, humans need to be refueled on a regular basis. In fact, the source of productivity in the knowledge economy is who has the freshest brain. When we pay attention to the brain’s natural 90-minute alertness cycle, the need for cells to refuel after activation through oxygen and glucose, and the power of energy-creating breaks during the day, productivity soars.

Your organization can put an end to the siege of Crazy-Busy Work by reining in devices, interruptions, multitasking, and information overload. The research shows that productivity is not a function of how fast you can go or how many things you're doing at one time. It’s about informed performance, thinking before we act, and managing demands, instead of being managed by them. 

If you would like more details and pricing information on our time management and productivity program, "Managing Crazy-Busy Work," click the button below.

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Tags: effect of stress on productivity, productivity programs, productivity and stress, employee productivity, work productivity, multitasking and productivity, employee stress management, crazy busy, increase productivity, work life balance programs, burnout

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