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Teaching people how to cope with the lack of time at work

Antonija asked me how I teach people to cope with the situation when there is simply much to do. Here is my answer that I provided in the Twitter thread, slightly edited for clarity.

Tweet screenshot: Beyond a certain level in your career,
there is no permanent solution to a lack of time. The best way
to cope with this new reality is to be extremely clear on the
1-2 things you must focus on doing really well in a given day,
given week, given month (and actually get them done). This is
so hard to get right even after many years, but it’s
absolutely critical for both productivity and mental health.
It’s something I’m constantly trying to teach emerging leaders
in my team who start to get really uncomfortable with the
notion that they can’t do

I try to teach and mentor in two ways:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Methods for prioritizing work

The first one, acceptance, is done mostly through explaining that what’s happening to them is happening to everyone in that situation. There is often a feeling “I’m failing” or “I’m not good enough”, and that’s mostly not the case. Understanding this is normal, albeit stressful, makes it easier to deal with. Recently, I told someone that doing anything that manages stress is great for situations like these: enough sleep, plenty of movement and exercise, meditation, social activities, and similar.

The second is prioritization (here’s how I do it). I often go into a joint exercise of mapping work and ideas, and trying to prioritize them. “What will happen if you do this? What will happen if you DON’T do this? What do you think is the best use of your time?” As you can see, it’s mostly managing expectations people have of themselves and expectations they think others have of them (but usually don’t). Writing answers down helps with clarity and focus.

I noticed that the best time to have these conversations is when the heat is on, when there is some pain. I’ve tried to do it earlier, but most people don’t listen because they don’t feel it yet; it’s hard to reason with overachievers when they’re on the rise :) At first, work hours go up. Then the situation at home worsens. People stop exercising, neglect their families, and sleep and nutrition suffer. At some points, there is nothing else to try except to change one’s mindset. Only when there is pain will people listen to advice.

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