How to Regain Control

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto/fizkes

Feeling overwhelmed by work is a common complaint: For example, a recent survey reported that over 80% of professionals in the US feel stressed on a regular basis.

Contrary to popular belief, stress is not induced by having too much to do: We probably know examples of people who have an enormous amount of work to do, yet approach every task with energy, vigor, and happiness. Stress is induced by the feeling of loss of control. In other words: When we lose sight of all the commitments we have made to others and to ourselves, we will have a continuous feeling that whatever we do at the moment, might not be the best thing to do right now. 

The solution to an overwhelmed organization is therefore not to ban internal emails for a day, or to stop people from working outside office hours, but simply to get clarity. There are three practical things leaders and professionals can do to make that happen.

  1. Your inbox is not your action list. Your actual action list should be based on your goals, not on (random) input you receive from others. Once you have created clarity around your goals (and the goals of your organization), it will become much easier to decide your action priorities and help others to decide on theirs. 
  2. Decide now, not later. A major source of loss of control is decision paralysis by leaders: The unhelpful habit to procrastinate on decisions until the last moment. Suddenly, as a result, an entire organization has to urgently implement this delayed decision, causing stress, anxiety, and mistakes. This behavior is completely unnecessary and can be easily avoided by strengthening your decision making muscle and the decision making muscle of others. Don’t let someone else’s tardiness become your personal urgency.
  3. Apply the two minute rule. If an action needs to be taken and takes less than two minutes, do it now. If it takes more than two minutes, put it on an action list to review and do it later. The reason is that it takes more work to track less-than-two-minute-actions on an action list, than to simply get those small actions done quickly.

Which of these three ideas will help you most to gain more control?

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