I have this vision of the elite employee, the perfect co-worker – always prepared, totally dependable,right there to lend a hand . . . and headed straight for a cliff.
This person is committed to the organization, loyal to employer and colleagues, devoted to excellence, unerringly competent, eager to take on any and all problems.
The cliff part comes in because this wonder-worker is incapable of saying “No.” He/she can’t refuse to help, is unable to resist jumping in when something needs to be done. The person is a perfectionist.
There is a huge, enthusiastic market for such people. Their managers and fellow employees love them. Ol’ Joe just never says “No.” Long hours, working nights at home, coming in on weekends.
While it lasts. No one can keep that up forever. There’s no end and no limit. Sooner or later, Joe runs down or runs out.
If you’re not Joe, you know him from your workplace. If you are Joe, don’t try to tough it out. Can’t be done. You’re going to have to make some changes.
First of all, vow to retain the habits of focus and discipline that got you here. They will serve you well no matter what you do in life. You need to adjust your activities, not your attitudes.
Secondly, devote some time to an accounting, an analysis of how you spend your days. What are you doing, and how long does it take? Why are you doing these things? Each of them?
Don’t have time to do this examination? That, my friend, is a strong sign that you’re closer to the cliff than you thought. However uncomfortable it makes you, step back and take stock.
There are simple tracking formats that take little time – although they do reveal the frightening volume of work you are asking yourself to handle.
Third, take a good look at your relationships. What goes on between you and other people? Who does what for whom? Are there sensible ways to re-order responsibilities? Should you work on your communication and negotiation skills?
Finally, set up more productive ways to use your time. Make collaboration just as important as individual effort.
For example, if you don’t have time to train others in activities you could delegate, look for what you can do less of – or stop doing.
Of course, no one else can do things as well as you can – but the hard truth is that many of them really don’t need to be done that well. Your devotion to perfection wastes time. Learn and live a more advanced workstyle. Think relationships and results, not familiar old processes.
This is called mastering multiple projects, priorities and demands. It helps you become a teamwork devotee more than a task doer. You train yourself to derive deep satisfaction from collegial rather than individual results. It is a more ordered, less driven way of working.
You don’t go over a cliff. And there’s a bonus: You get a life.