Too busy at work? Read this.

Office Calm

Here is a tale of two leaders: Leo is finding it hard to get home in time to see his young kids before they get to bed. Caprice is thinking about cancelling her vacation this summer, as her project has hit a snag and there will be some political fallout to manage. Perhaps you, in your own way, are struggling to manage the demands of your career with the rest of your life. Frightfully common, finding work/life balance is a coaching topic for many of my clients, especially for those who are successful achievers.

Leo and Caprice each found a way to move forward with integral coaching support that focused them on a new way of being busy – being productive with less stress and wasted energy. Here are some ideas for the time crunched, including what worked for Leo and Caprice. See if any appeal to you and then experiment with them.

  • Slow down your body.

The most efficient way I know to lower anxiety and frustration caused by overload is to breathe more deeply and more slowly. When we feel rushed by deadlines and commitments our body often responds by speeding up – we walk faster, we talk faster – our breathing becomes faster and shallower. In some workplaces, this outward expression of “sense of urgency” is part of the culture and can become an unhealthy norm for leaders. Take “go slow to go fast breaks” a few times a day. You can do this at regular times in your day, or set your phone to go off every 90 minutes to ‘take a breather’. Here are a few things you can do during this time.

  • Experiment with breathing more deeply into the bottom of your lungs near your belly. Make your exhale longer, about two beats more than the inhale.
  • Notice what your hands and feet are doing, what your senses are telling you about your environment at this moment
  • Take a short break and step outside or to another location. Even shifting your gaze from the narrow confines of your office to the wider horizon will add spaciousness to the day.

At work we get caught up in our minds, and much urgency is created in rumination instead of reality. Your body is a wonderful way to bring you smack-dab into a more reasonable pace of living.  

  • Use tools and frameworks to sort and prioritize the deluge.

Being organized doesn’t come easily to everyone, and creative thinkers often revel in the messiness. Having a sense of what’s before you allows you to react more thoughtfully to what arises. I suggest the concept of “triage” to help you control what you take on, and to provide a logical way to let go or delay some things. Sort your work often, especially as new demands arise. Use your best time of day to get to the top priority tasks. Delegate more often. Once you know what’s most important (at work, at home, in life) it is easier for you to decide on how much attention you wish to give.

  • Manage relationships to be helpful not burdensome.

Working with others can be a great joy – fun, creative and satisfyingly efficient. When we help each other out, more gets done and the burden becomes manageable. At the same time, unmanaged interruptions from others are a great source of stress. When you allow others to “cut in line” for your time, you undermine your personal authority over your life. Once you have setup your triage system, share it with others. When new demands are made, take time to see how they fit with your schedule and priorities. Learn to negotiate unreasonable deadlines and to confidently say “No.” Be friendly but firm when explaining to others that you don’t have time to chat. Try designating a specific time of the day or week when you are available for interruptions and impromptu conversations. At the same time, be respectful of how often you interrupt others during the day.

  • Allow your day to flow seamlessly.

You can approach the topic of being too busy from an internal perspective. Here, I draw on Darlene Cohen’s gem of a little book called “The One Who Is Not Busy”. Cohen introduced me to the Zen concept of Simultaneous Inclusion – which is just about taking in the value of all that we do, all day. She calls it, “keeping the soul with you”. When we label an activity as work vs. leisure, or mundane vs. interesting we can feel frustrated or like we’re wasting our time. Instead, we can accept that life is made up of a vast array of moments and that all of them are meaningful in their way. This allows us to have reverence for the current moment, instead of anticipating a better future. We can move from TGIF (Thank goodness it’s Friday) to TGIN – Thank goodness it’s Now. With this kind of reframing, no moment of our lives is wasted. You can practice this by asking yourself how this moment, right now, is a vehicle for the true expression of you.

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