Three techniques to manage the increased pace of workplace life, and keep your sanity while doing it.
It has been said that time is speeding up; the world is changing at a faster pace now than it ever has. Yet is that true?
As a matter of fact, it is true.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, NASA scientists calculated that the Earth’s mass changed causing the Earth to rotate faster and shortening the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds. The world has literally sped up and the Japanese landscape will never be the same. Nor will the business landscape be the same again. Disruptive innovations have created new technologies and new industries. As a leader, it is easy to bend under the weight of unique challenges, increased complexities, and information overload. It is understandable to feel behind and, quite frankly, a little crazy. You are likely behind, but you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.
So what happened?
Technological influences such as social media have created completely new conditions that are unparalleled to the past. Social media has shifted from simply being a technology to setting the standard for speed and quality of collaboration around the world.
Market influences include the creation of entirely new industries based on technologies like 3D printing and the cloud, the entry of developing countries like Nigeria and Uzbekistan into the global marketplace, and a sea of change in the needs and wants of customers. We see continued financial upheaval and the increasing shift of power to developing countries like China and Brazil. NASA researchers report that the Earth’s rotation is changing all of the time causing the balance of the Earth’s mass to shift constantly from earthquakes, oceanic and atmospheric conditions. Just as we accept this physical reality, we must also accept the reality that business will forever be different.
We can’t stop the trajectory of change any more than we can slow the Earth’s rotation.
Customers are changing. They are more sophisticated; demanding their voices be heard, and expecting their needs to be incorporated into your newest product offering. Analytics must now provide insight which leads to action. Employee Engagement is now very different. Employees now expect Personal Value Propositions in which their work fulfills them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And all of this implies that organizations will no longer be able to operate the way they always have—like the Japanese landscape, your organization will never quite look the same.
So where does this leave you?
One of my clients has started forgetting things—little things—like where he put his Smartphone or what he was going to say or where he put the note about the meeting for the presentation to the board. He never used to be forgetful yet he shared with me that he can actually feel a change in his mental acuity under the weight of chaos. Another client who was recently promoted saw a doctor about his forgetfulness and was told he’s trying to do too much at once. A third client has caught herself a couple times in the midst of an outburst toward her staff. Although normally more professional, she can no longer seem to contain her anger and frustration; her fuse is short and her to-do list is long.
Uncharted territory can trigger the threat system in the brain, actually shifting energy from our critical thinking center to our fight-or-flight system. Add in the shift of control to customers, vendors, and employees and the sheer uncertainty of what’s next, and we create a perfect storm of fear, vulnerability, and the feeling of being utterly alone.
Yet there is hope.
There is light at the end of the tunnel (and no, it’s not a train).
I recommend three small things to deal with this feeling of being out of control: Accept it, Chunk it, and Share it.
- Acceptance: first off as I’ve already mentioned, the earth is spinning faster and business as usual no longer exits. No matter how intelligent, young, energetic, seasoned, experienced, how little sleep you need in comparison to others, or how many hours you work; we are physically incapable of keeping up with all the changes in our lives and the world today. Once you accept that you are human and you have limited capacity (thank goodness for that), you might be able to slow down long enough to think about what you really need to be doing and focusing on – given your humanly finite resources – and perhaps you’ll actually have more joy and fun in your life – whew wouldn’t that be cool.
- Chunking: Now that you know you are a mere human, determine the most important things you need to do this year, this month, this week, and today. If you have several big projects on your plate – determine how to chunk them into smaller bite size mini projects and then determine when the first mini-project needs to get done and how. Chunk “like work together” – for example: do all your phone calls in one time chunk, do your writing/thinking in another time chunk, etc. Your brain loves chunking because it’s an efficient way to use your brain vs going back and forth between many different types of tasks. You’ll find you get more done, feel good about what you have accomplished and your brain will be happy. (Reference David Rock’s Book: The Brain at Work if you want more information)
- Sharing: You’ve accepted you can’t do it all, you’ve chunked your work for the week or the day, and you perhaps you’re still are feeling overwhelmed and would welcome some help or support. There are many ways to share the problem. Discuss your difficult problems with your staff, a co-worker, a spouse, a friend, your boss, mentor, or a coach – someone you trust. Often times verbalizing what you are facing or feeling – helps you realize it isn’t that bad after all once you say it out loud – or you may find you suddenly have an idea of how to resolve your problem – sometimes just hearing yourself talk – helps you see things more clearly and feel more empowered. Sharing and being able to ask for help are signs of good leadership. While you are enlisting others to help and support you, you are simultaneously helping others grow as well and be part of your life.
The world is changing more rapidly, complexity is the new normal, and the landscape is permanently changed. Yet as scientists will tell you, complexity affords us opportunity. When navigated correctly and in tandem with our allies, the tensions that are currently filling us with fear can be transformed into possibility. You will stop feeling behind when you recognize you simply are behind.
Fight it and inevitably you will lose; accept it and you have a fighting chance.
And know that you are not alone.
Photo credit: Flickr/عبدالرحمن الدخيني