“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates
20 years ago, I went through a deep teenager crisis which completely disrupted my life trajectory. From being best student in class and a competitive judo player, I became the shadow of myself, dropped out of school, and picked up multiple addictions.
This experience changed my life forever. I was only 18 but I thought back then that I was like already dead and would never feel joy again. Surprisingly, though, this fiasco turned out to be the most fruitful phase of my life.
It started as a reaction to a minor tension between my parents. I was probably not mature enough to understand and accept what was going on. As a result, the paradigm of success I had at the time was not making sense any longer and it exploded in pieces.
In a desperate attempt to numb the pain, I indulged into self-destruction. I stopped sport competitions, started to smoke, first a cigarette, then a joint, then a bong, etc. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd.
I needed meaning but could not find it anywhere. I had picked up philosophy classes but what they were teaching there seemed superficial and did not answer my questions –or my distress. I dropped out of university after a month.
I felt increasingly isolated. I stopped talking to people. I would just write notes to my mother. I had built a hut in the forest where I would spend most of my time, in the loneliness of my morbid thoughts. So when people say “If only I could be 18 or 20 again…”, I think to myself that it was actually the worst time of my life.
It took me some time to recover. My parents had the wisdom not to push me. I did not want any help. They were confident that I would somehow get back on track. The odds seemed against them at that time. But actually they were right. I made it through.
In retrospect, I realize that there were many steps involved in getting over failure and building my life back. Let me try and share them with you.Advertising
1. Give up the victim mindset
When something bad happens, we tend to picture ourselves as victims. As a result, we adopt a passive attitude: if the world did us wrong, then it should also make things better again for us. It is as if we were trying to convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do to bounce back. After all, it is a comfortable thought: if there is nothing we can do about it, we have nothing to do but bemoan our fate.
The first step in my “recovery” process was a mindset shift. I simply realized that nothing was going to change by just waiting for it. I had been through tough times but I could not expect the solution to come from outside. I had to hold myself accountable for what was coming next. No one will look after you if you don’t start by looking after yourself.
This realization did not come overnight. It took me almost a year to get there. Of course it was frightening. When you are at the bottom, you can’t fall lower. If you try to come back up, you expose yourself to failure again.
But the biggest risk at this stage was not to take any risk at all. By maintaining self-destructive behaviors, I would just lose any chance of a better life. What did I have to lose but the hell I was living in?
I had touched the bottom and pushed it with my foot. I was ready for action and committed myself to getting back to the surface. There was a long way to go.
2. Change the setting
Our lives are deeply influenced by our environment. The place where we live, the people we know, etc. They are part of our identity; they are constant reminders of who we have been to date. To a certain extent, they anchor us in our past.
This is natural, and even comforting. But it may be unhelpful when we strive to create change in our lives. People sometimes expect us to behave in a certain way which makes it difficult to adopt new behaviors.
When I decided to rebuild my life, I felt the urge to break free from the past –at least temporarily. I enrolled at the university in a town where I knew no one. It made it less awkward to try and be the new me that I wanted to be. There was no sign from the past; I could focus on the present. It was like a cocoon in which I could be born again.Advertising
Sometimes changing the outside makes it easier to change inside. This is what behavior psychologist James Prochaska calls “Environment Control”.
Depending on the severity of your setback, you may not have to go as far as moving country or city. But taking a 1- or 2-week break at least can prove beneficial. It will facilitate the introspection process and help you get a fresh perspective on the situation.
3. Know yourself
Major breakdowns shatter our identity. In order to move on with life, we have to rebuild a sense of self.
Who am I? How did this fiasco come along? Where do I want my life to go from now on? I knew I needed answers to these questions in order to get back on track.
When life doesn’t go the way we want, we tend to avoid mirrors and the ugly reflection they send back to us. Yet facing the mirror and raising awareness is essential to pick ourselves back up after a fiasco. Without self-awareness, any behavior change process has very little chance to mature.
I used two mirrors: reading and dreaming. I would read voraciously anything that could help me understand the situation better: psychology papers, books on mental illnesses and spiritual experiences, biographies from people I felt somehow related to, articles about substance abuse, etc.
This is also when I started to write down all my dreams. I had a Dictaphone next to my bed and I would wake up at night to record a few words and remember the dreams the next day. I became an expert dreamer! I could remember up to 20 dreams per night very vividly. I didn’t feel the need to analyze them. By simply acknowledging them and exploring my subconscious, things were getting clearer: my fears, my aspirations, the people I loved, what mattered to me.
Self-understanding leads to self-acceptance. It is the cornerstone of any genuine reconstruction process.Advertising
4. Body first
Critical setbacks in life leave us with a lot of uncertainties. We doubt whether any activity is worth pursuing.
At the peak of my personal crisis, I wouldn’t listen to any music anymore because I could not identify myself any longer with anything. Why would I listen to this song rather than this other one?
The first certainty that emerged out of the chaos was the importance of physical health. I did not know which life track I would eventually follow, but I was sure that I would be better equipped under any scenario if fit. This fundamental belief was where I started my reconstruction process from.
I went back to a healthy life with regular exercise, pushups every day, a balanced diet, no smoking or drinking, etc. The downward spiral was over. I was engaged in a process of progression which helped regain self-confidence.
When we are in good shape, our thoughts are clearer and we manage our emotions better. Our body is ultimately our home, our temple. Treating it with respect is essential to rebuilding a positive sense of self.
5. Mull it over and get it out
A life crisis is a traumatic event. We can be tempted to avoid thinking about it and live in denial in order to reduce our pain. Yet this can’t be fruitful in the long run. We have to face reality and confront our suffering if we want to go beyond it.
At the same time, we shouldn’t get stuck in unpleasant thoughts and relive in our mind the fiasco we have been through again and again. We need to eventually get it out of our system.
The way I did it was through writing. For about a year, I wrote poetry. I had some very strong feelings inside that I needed to crystallize in order not to drag them along. This was my emotional catharsis.Advertising
Creative activities such as journaling or painting can be immensely helpful in getting you over the bad aftertaste left after a personal fiasco. The point is not to create a masterpiece, but to let go of limiting emotions.
6. Set goals
Goal-setting probably saved my life! As I engaged in a reconstruction process, I felt deeply frustrated with where I stood. Setting personal objectives allowed me to set eyes on a new horizon and move forward. I was perhaps very far from where I wanted to be but I was on my way there, step by step, day after day.
I wrote a list of the goals I wanted to achieve in life, organized them by category (physical, intellectual, artistic, etc.), and kept a daily log of the activities that were me getting closer to these aspirations. This provided me with a sense of direction and helped me be at peace with my present self.
By setting goals, you make yourself responsible –you adopt the viewpoint that you can do something about your situation. By having goals, you take ownership of your destiny and become the architect of your life.
Don’t set too many at first. Try with three to five simple goals, with a focus on daily or weekly habits. Make them S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound); e.g., exercising 3 times per week, reading 20 minutes per day, or drinking 2 L of water daily.
When failure becomes an opportunity
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
If you had asked me back then, I would have told you that I would rather have avoided this fiasco. It’s only years later that I recognized how beneficial it had actually been. A breakdown may shake you but it does not destroy you –it de-constructs you. The bricks of your life may be scattered all over the place but they are still here. This gives you a rare chance to rebuild from scratch the life you want.
It took me some time to get back on track. I eventually managed to enter a prestigious university and started a career in investment banking. 12 years later, I launched my own venture to help people reach their own life goals. It was a way to close the loop: failing, growing, and sharing.
The lessons I have learned and the habits I have picked up through this personal crisis stay with me to this day. This fiasco ended up having a positively transformative impact in my life.
When you experience personal chaos, you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel right away. It may feel like everything is over. Don’t freak out, it could well be instead a blessing in disguise and a rare opportunity for you to step back and build the life you want.
Published on January 16, 2019
How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work
We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.
You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.
You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.
That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.
Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:
1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All
Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.
We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.
To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.
At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.
The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.
2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.
The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.
In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.
It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.
It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.
So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:
- Are you a great strategist?
- Are you an effective planner?
- Is Project Management your strength?
- Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
- Are you the ideas person?
- Is Implementation your strength?
Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.
3. Use the Strengths of Your Team
One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.
Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.
Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.
Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.
4. Take Time for Planning
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln
One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.
You can take the time to think about:
- What’s the purpose of the project?
- How Important is it?
- When does it need to be delivered by?
- What is the best result and worst result for this project?
- What are the KPIs?
- What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
- Who is working on this project?
- What is everyone’s responsibilities?
- What tolerances can I add in?
- What are the review stages?
- What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?
Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.
5. Focus on Priorities
Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.
Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.
One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:
- Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
- Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
- Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
- Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).
James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box
The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.
If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.
If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.
6. Take Time Out
To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.
If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.
Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.
In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.
Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.
7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.
I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.
Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.
If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.
8. Stop Multitasking
Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.
So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.
When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.
If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.
9. Work in Blocks of Time
To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.
I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.
Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.
Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.
Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.
Then take another 10-minute break.
Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.
By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.
10. Get Rid of Distractions
Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.
“Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”
Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.
If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.
11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks
You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.
Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.
Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.
12. Take a Time Audit
Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?
Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.
You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:
Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.
Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.
At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.
If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.
13. Protect Your Confidence
It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.
When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.
Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.
When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.
A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.
The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.
If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.
Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com
|||^||Gloria Mark: The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress|