It’s the end of the year, so it seems like the perfect time to reflect and assess what’s working and what isn’t. But here’s the thing, even though an end of the year wrap-up lends itself nicely to that impulse, if you want to be effective in your role, this type of reflection needs to come throughout the year. If you don’t, you’re going to constantly be wasting you and your team’s energy and time. If your job and your life isn’t where you want it to be, you’ll want to keep reading.
I mentioned wasted energy. Now I talk about energy a lot, so I just want to remind you that wasted energy is energy that you use on things that aren’t productive and doesn’t help you achieve your goals. And the thing is, when you use that energy on those things, it also means you can’t use it for the things that ARE going to get you where you want to go. Why? Because we’ve just used it for this other thing that if we had taken the time to reflect, we’d realize it wasn’t very important. And unless you’ve got a pretty robust self-care regimen, once that energy is gone for the day, it’s just gone. Wasted energy negatively impacts your wellbeing and can absolutely lead to burnout for you and your team members. If you’re exhausted, I can guarantee your energy isn’t going where it should be. But the only way to change that, is by understanding where your energy is going now and what systems aren’t working, and that takes reflection.
Now you may be thinking, “If I’m already overwhelmed by the chaos, where the BLEEP am I going to find the time to reflect on said chaos?” Excellent question! To do that, you’re going to need to reframe some things.
Let’s start with time. Time is not your problem. Energy management is your problem. If you’re reading this, you know the status quo isn’t working for you. More specifically, the things you’re thinking and doing are not giving you the results and the life you want, right? So, if continuing to go-go-go and do-do-do doesn’t work, there’s no reason to worry that stopping for a few minutes will really impact the end results. If rushing around was going to get you out of this mess, wouldn’t it have already done so? In a previous article, I mentioned the freedom of knowing that you’ll never get caught up. If you have too much to reasonably get done, the only way to ever get beyond that is to do something different. And you can’t do something different, until you stop and reflect on what’s not working.
This goes back to our many discussions about changing the stories that no longer work for you. The story you have that working harder or faster is the only way to get caught up doesn’t work. It just leaves you feeling defeated and exhausted. What’s a new and better story that will help you get where you want to go? How about, “In order for me and my team to be effective with our energy, we need to stop and assess where our energy is being wasted, so we can make the appropriate changes to our habits and systems.” And you need to have this story in your back pocket, because as you’ll recall from other articles, our subconscious NEVER wants to do anything differently. When you try, it will remind you that you need to keep hustling. That’s when you whip out this new, improved story out and remind yourself that you’re doing things differently now.
Remember, you and your team operate on autopilot 95-99% of the time. That means that you’re automatically living out the stories you have through your beliefs and habits; even the beliefs and habits you have that are holding you back. You may wish and hope that today, this week, this semester will be different, but it can’t be if you’re believing and doing the same things. Your subconscious brain is going to win if it’s left alone. You have to actively change what’s going on in there to get different results. So, when you’re smack-dab in the middle of autopilot feeling frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed, that’s exactly when you need to stop and reflect. You need to assess what exactly is wrong with this scenario that’s causing you to feel this way. Whatever it is, there are habits and systems that are driving this situation. You need to identify them, so you can change them.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to get a project done by the end of the day. You’ve blocked off your schedule, but students and your team members keep coming by and interrupting you. I’m sure that’s never happened before…LOL. Now in that situation, how do you feel? Frustrated? Angry? Anxious? Overwhelmed? That’s a sign that you need to stop and reflect on what’s really happening.
“But Anne, didn’t you pay attention to your own hypothetical situation? I have to get this project done by the end of the day. Why would I take time out now?”
No, I didn’t forget the situation. But really, are you getting the project done? No. You’re getting interrupted. Interrupting yourself isn’t going to change that. And my guess is that this isn’t an isolated situation, right? That means even if you happen to get THIS project done on time, the scenario will keep playing out over and over again. Your problem isn’t getting THIS project done on time. Your problem is you have habits and systems that get in the way of you completing projects. If you want different results, you need better systems.
So, stopping to reflect and assessing the situation now, is actually going to help you get this AND future projects done more effectively. In this situation, what’s really going on? What is getting in the way of your progress? You have a project due today. When did you get that project assigned to you? Last week, but you had so many other things on your plate you couldn’t get to it until today? Then one system you need to look at is the “too many things on your plate.” Your current system is to try to do everything, which isn’t working. That may mean you need to look at what’s on your plate and start cutting things or start setting priorities.
No, that’s not the case? Your supervisor just gave you the project this morning. Then perhaps the issue is your supervisor has a habit of giving you things last minute. Then that’s the broken system. “But wait, Anne. How am I supposed to tell my supervisor to stop giving me things last minute?” Last month, we talked about setting boundaries. If you haven’t read those articles, I recommend doing so. In a nutshell, boundaries allow you to be your best self. They aren’t about controlling others; it’s about finding out what you need to do an be your best. In this case, to do your best work on the project you need at least, say 48 hours to get things done. If that’s the case, you can let your supervisor know that the current system – of all this last-minute business – isn’t working, and that in the future you’ll need at least 48 hours (or whatever you realistically need) to get any project back to them. Then when they give you something last minute again – and they definitely will – you remind them that their deadline won’t work for you and tell them that the earliest you can get it to them is ____.
Now, setting boundaries aren’t as easy that because we haven’t been taught to set them or even that it’s okay to have boundaries. Again, read the last two articles on boundaries to wrap your mind around this a bit better. Now whether or not you believe you can tell your supervisor that, the issue I’m really trying to drive home is that it’s these systems that drives your day. In this case, your supervisor’s system of assigning projects doesn’t work.
Okay, back to the example again. Let’s talk about all these interruptions. Do you have an open-door policy? Have you trained your folks and students that they’re welcome to stop by with questions or concerns whenever they like? That’s a problem. Of course, you’re not going to get things done, if you’re constantly being interrupted. I’ve mentioned this before, but it takes on average 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. That means even after that person has left your office, you’re not back in your groove for 23 minutes! You’re not going to get that project done very well in these conditions. So, you need to think about what’s the ideal situation for you to get projects done and change your systems to match that scenario.
What are better ways to address student and staff questions and concerns? Can you set up more frequent one-on-ones with staff and ask people to hold their questions until then? Can you make sure students are asking the appropriate staff member before coming directly to you? Can you require students to set up appointments? Remember, we train people how to treat us. You may want folks to know you’re there for them, but if it comes at the expense of you being able to do your job that doesn’t work. I mean if you’re trying to get that project done and students or staff keep interrupting you, how attentive are you actually going to be in those encounters? Sure, maybe the first few you still feel like you have time to do both, but at a certain point you’re going into panic mode. That means you’re going to be less patient or helpful. And once you go into the stress response, your ability to think critically or solve problems is going to diminish. You need a better system!
And through all of this, remember to reflect on how your talents are showing up. Your talents have developed their own habits and systems over the years. Sometimes it’s just one talent doing X, Y, Z, but other times it’s how your talents work together. You may know what your Talent Themes are, but that doesn’t mean you always know how they show up and impact your work. That’s why we always recommend you take a few minutes at the end of the day to assess how they’re showing up for you. If I had a project to do, whether I got that project a month ago or this morning I can guarantee my Input will need to Google something. That can be helpful, but since my Input mostly just wants to get more information, that can quickly get out of control. Maybe you have WOO, so when those people knock on your door you can’t just answer their question. You compulsively ask them how the rest of their life is going and their plans for break. That can also get out of control. That doesn’t mean my Input, your WOO, or your whatever are the problem. It means that the habits and systems they use to operate in certain situations no longer working for you. You can change them, but ONLY if you’ve reflected on and assessed them to know they’re not working AND what would work.
Now, in this scenario – and all the situations you find frustrating – you’re not going to be able to just stop and change the system right there. After all, these systems are deeply ingrained into your mind or the culture of your department. But stopping all the doing to assess will snap you out of auto-pilot so you can make some small changes in the moment. You can go, “Oh BLEEP! I need to move to a conference room, so no one can find me to get this done.” That’s not the permanent solution, but it allows you to act in a way that’s outside of your current system and be more productive in the moment. If you stay in auto-pilot, you’re going to stay where you are, get continually interrupted, and not accomplish your goal – or at least not very well. That’s why stopping to reflect is almost always the right call – even if it seems like just kicking it into an even higher gear makes more sense.
Once the project or situation is over, you can start to make changes to the system itself to keep it from happening again. In the next article, we’ll go into what you can do actually fix the habits and systems that are keeping you stuck. But remember, the first thing is becoming more aware of what’s getting in your way. That means stopping and reflecting on the situation at hand.