Many ambitious overachievers want to … overachieve. And thus, we take on many initiatives, before adding some more initiatives… and then “there’s another great idea! I really have to embrace it. So interesting! So promising”. And there we go again – yet another initiative on our priority list. It’s piling up, it’s piling up, it’s piling up. And at some point, we have to face it: There’s too much on our plate, progress is incredibly slow, and results are below expectations. We can try to embrace it all and work up to 120 hours per week. But as Arianna Huffington recently told Elon Musk, that’s not a wise idea. Therefore, the question is: how to avoid work overload, and get to our ‘zone of highest performance’?

Work overload

The holidays provide us with a nice analogy:

We all know the scene of packing our luggage. On our left, there’s a big suitcase; on our right, all the things we want to put in the suitcase – way too much, as always. So what do we do?

  • We push and push to squeeze everything inside our suitcase. We even go and sit on top of it, desperately attempting to close and lock it, and secretly praying nothing will get broken in the process
  • If that doesn’t work, we decide to better organize our stuff in the suitcase, hoping it will free up some space.
  • And if that doesn’t work either, we have 2 options left:
    1. Either we take another bag and put all the remaining stuff in there.
    2. Or we face it and leave some of our belongings home…

Sounds familiar?

Let’s use our ‘luggage experience’ next time we are overloaded with work. Here are the questions to ask:

  1. Can we squeeze it in, without compromising on results, without ‘breaking’ anything or anyone? (be honest!)
    • if yes: perfect!
    • If not: go to the next question
  2. Can we better organize ourselves, and free up enough time to ensure quality work on everything we embrace? What exactly will we do to gain time, and will it be sufficient?
    • If yes: go for it!
    • If not: ask yourself the next question
  3. Can we get additional resources, and ensure sufficient means to embrace all these opportunities? How exactly will we go about that?
    • If yes: go and implement it! 
    • If not: there’s only one choice left: 
  4. Shouldn’t we free up time by dropping some initiatives? And what is it we’re going to drop?

Those of us who continuously struggle with too word overload, probably tend to be somewhere between level 1 and level 2 (trying to squeeze it in; trying to become more effective). If the ‘struggle’ continues and continues, it’s most likely time to move to level 3 and level 4. That’s tough – indeed. But there is no real choice, is there? And the impact is straightforward: much more quality output, and higher levels of serenity. What are we waiting for?


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