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Is Work Taking Over Your Life?
ITPLANS.net news - Is Work Taking Over Your Life?
Details: When I left a large company several years ago to start up my own firm, I imagined a more streamlined life, with less demands on my time from new projects and change initiatives. I could decide how much work I wanted to do and — critically — what I didn't want to do. For the first time in my life, I had the luxury of deciding what I did and when.

Then I encountered reality. When you start a small business, you have to work long hours to get the company established: marketing, administration, and business development all take as much time as delivering the work itself, and you take every job that is offered. I have become my own worst boss, setting unrealistic goals, initiating new projects and writing lengthy to-do lists. I then order myself to deliver the work, which is often done in far-flung places around the world, develop longer-term projects and continue to run a now-thriving business at home.

I find myself working long hours, traveling far too much and working at weekends, never quite able to catch up with daily tasks, let alone the longer-term projects. My time disappears, my personal life comes second, and I have sometimes felt unwell from stress and pressure. It's clear that things aren't working.

One of the interesting things about coaching is how much you learn about yourself in the process of working with clients. Many of the executives I coach are facing the same issues as me, albeit on a much larger scale: they are in a perpetual state of overload and stress from new technology, globalisation, demands for innovation, and a shrinking workforce. On top of this, many have to work in a matrix-run organisation, meaning they are accountable to more than one boss. In sum, they are told to achieve more, more efficiently, faster, and with fewer people.

In many corporate roles, this is achieved by giving more capable people more to do, which leads to stress and burnout, and sacking the less-efficient managers. Many executives I coach are doing the work of two full-time executives. Take Andrew, 40, the CFO of a British retailer who was recently promoted to COO. He has been asked to cover both jobs until his successor as CFO is appointed "some time next year." He has a deputy, but he is too inexperienced to take on the CFO role, which means long hours for Andrew and the constant anxiety that does neither job very well. He says the quality of his work has suffered as his attention is stretched in too many directions. And while he is bearing up well, he admits that he is occasionally beset by a paralysing fear that something will go horribly wrong.

Of course, this situation is unsustainable in the long run. If Andrew continues to try to do both roles, his anxiety will increase and he could be in danger of derailing his career and his health being affected, perhaps even suffering from burnout. For his company, there is a risk that Andrew may feel it's simply not worth it and he may choose to walk away and find another role which offers better conditions.

So what can you do if you are in a situation like Andrew, or if you are leading an organisation where this kind of overload has become the norm? Or perhaps you are an entrepreneur like me, who has become your own worst boss in a business which threatens to overrun your life.

I suggest three immediate steps which should go some way to streamlining your working life. These are just initial thoughts — I am sure that you have many better ideas which I encourage you to share with fellow-sufferers! I look forward to hearing them all, but in the meantime, these are my ideas:

1. Manage your time ruthlessly and set clear priorities. It's often a revelation for executives to analyse exactly where their time is spent during the week — in pointless meetings, with demanding team members, chasing the boss, or staring at an ever-growing list of tasks. Determine how many hours you need to work (I suggest an upper limit of 50-55) and then manage these as you would manage your money: don't throw them away!

Consider what is really urgent and has to be done, and what is really important to you in the long run. Look at your strategy carefully and rank the strategic importance of goals, tasks, and projects, identifying the essential ones. Focus your energy on these and make sure that you set aside time regularly to reflect on your strategy and what you are doing. Take the time to recharge.

2. Once you have set your priorities and decided where you will spend your time, draw up a list of things you can eliminate. Executives are very good at drawing up lists of things to do and devising new projects and initiatives, but from now on, list what you don't need to do. Initiatives often become mired in problems and processes, or executives can't let go because they have invested too much time in them. Again, be ruthless: be clear that killing off projects does not mean personal failure; it's simply that defunct projects drain energy. Throw out old projects and initiatives that are going nowhere and try to focus on key projects that will deliver results.

If you are unable to decide, ask your team which projects or initiatives are a waste of time and they will no doubt draw up a list for you. If in doubt, discipline yourself to cancel at least one project every time you decide to initiate a new one. Recognise the danger of overloading: energy is a finite resource and you must use it well.

3. Push back against your own boss — or yourself — to ensure that you are not chasing endless initiatives and are focusing your energy on key projects. If your boss is bad at setting priorities, ensure he or she is really committed to a project before you invest your time in it. One of my clients had a very effective way of managing a boss who constantly fired off new ideas and initiatives: she only responded to his requests when he had made them three times — she knew that these were important while the rest were allowed to die quietly.
(blogs.harvardbusiness.org - Read other news)
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