For many of us, the chaos at work isn’t diminishing, so waiting until it gets better is not a great coping technique. These three steps can help you create some calm now.
Our lives, both at work and at home, have never been more chaotic. Like a saucepan of spaghetti boiling away, the more we turn up the heat, the worse the mess gets. We are like sword jugglers, desperately trying to keep things in the air because of the damage we know it will cause if we cannot keep up. In the process, we become so focused on the spinning swords that we become disconnected from ourselves, our health, our relationships and the love we used to have for our work.
We are drowning in our commitments, expectations, deadlines and list of things we think we ‘should’ do. We have allowed ourselves to reach the point where to be busy and overwhelmed is a badge we wear with honour and our most common topic of conversation. In the words of Dr Brene Brown, “ exhaustion has become a status symbol”. We have become slaves to being busy.
The chaos isn’t diminishing, so waiting until it gets better is not a great coping technique. Fortunately, there are things you can do to get out of chaos and into calm despite the daily turmoil you find yourself immersed in.
Let’s start with how we measure work performance and key performance indicators
We are being asked to be more productive. This was an appropriate thing to ask of workers at the start of the Industrial Revolution when we were trying to produce more of the same product from a manufacturing plant. Surely that is no longer our goal, right? Blindly sending more emails, making more phone calls, or even working longer hours is not necessarily going to result in better outcomes. Shouldn’t our work targets now be related to the quality of the conversations and connections we are making (or the ‘soul of business’, as outlined here), rather than number of them? Shouldn’t we now be focused upon ‘smart strategies’ rather than ‘productivity’? Aren’t we living in a world where people are already overwhelmed? Wouldn’t it make sense to do less of something that was better quality and more relevant and improve businesses that way?
Most of us spend our working day reacting to urgent issues rather than planning what we want and making that happen. What if at the start of each day you were strategic and you:
- Set your intention for the day. Determine what you want as the outcome from your day and then set about planning your priorities, energies, and actions accordingly.
- Set strong boundaries: One manager I know has a tiara on her desk that she wears when she needs some quiet time to finish a job. No-one messes with the Queen and she takes it off again when she has finished the urgent job.
- Start ditching stuff that doesn’t matter: goals you keep ignoring but leave on your ‘to do’ list, people, and activities that waste your time. Focus your intention instead on the things and people that really matter, including yourself and your health.
Your brain is trying to kill you
One of the reasons it is so difficult to cope with chaos in the workplace is because of the way our brains evolved. They are hardwired to notice and be alarmed by changes in your environment. These changes are a warning that you might be in danger of being eaten. This fantastic alarm system now drives us bonkers at work because it makes us easily distracted by emails, text messages, conversations in the adjacent work station, ringing phones, and the beeping of the printer that has run out of paper and which everyone else is managing to ignore. We are so primitively and deeply hardwired to be alert for changes that we are distracted by almost everything and anything that happens around us at work.
We can help ourselves cope with this hardwiring through simple things such as putting our mobile phone in a drawer, turning off the email alert, or closing the door. Find ways to work with your brain and keep distractions to a minimum.
When your brain isn’t being a busy body it likes an addictive rush
Your brain rewards you for good behaviour with a dopamine hit. When you finish a job, the high you get is due to dopamine. Each time you take a step towards a goal or cross something off your ‘to do’ list, dopamine goes ‘ wham!’ and gives you a nice little feel good boost.
Dopamine not only feels good, it is also addictive. It is the reason you feel you constantly have to check emails, tweets, Facebook, or text messages. Each time we check and there is a message we like, we get a hit of dopamine as a reward. This is why we are constantly compelled to search for messages in the same way a gambling addict is constantly compelled to keep going for the big win.
You can harness the power of dopamine for good by giving yourself a creative environment to work in, breaking big projects down into smaller chunks you can feel good about finishing, or going for a walk on your lunch break. Use your brain’s reward drug to keep you fired up and in control of your working day. Break your day down into small, achievable tasks and tick them off as they are done. You will get a dopamine hit each time and feel motivated to do the next task.
Look after yourself first
Putting other people first is a very important, noble, and worthy intention. However, the best way to provide service to others (colleagues, family, work, community, friends etc) is to sleep well, eat well, and look after your physical and mental well-being. Only then do you have what it takes to be switched on to making decisions, being present in conversations, and motivated to take action.
Working harder doesn’t get you from chaos to calm. You need to do something else. So, when the chaos hits your workplace and you don’t know how you are going to cope, try this….
- Stop: Seriously stop what you’re doing; the rushing, the internal chatter about the serious situation you are in, and breathe deeply, several times in and out. Pause and take stock of what is really going on. Get out of panic and back into control.
- Prioritise: Do it like a pro. Act as if you were in the emergency department of a hospital. What is a head cold and what needs immediate attention? Outsource what you can and tackle the stuff that really needs tackling.
- Act: Calmly, purposefully, and in the direction of your choosing, take action. As an army officer once said to me, “Leaders don’t run as it panics the troops”.
When you have done these three steps, do them again and again and again until they become your habitual working day routine. At that point, you will have moved from the chaos to calm.
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