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Before spending too much time on the reflective question, “Is it me, or my workload?” consider the possibility that the answer ‘Yes’ applies to both parts of the question. The workload part of the equation is the easiest place to start. Keep in mind that the current round of organizational layoffs are the latest ripple started by a stone thrown in pond back in the 1980’s. Over the years the pink slip runway has began to buckle under from the weight of hundreds of employees being escorted out of their cubicles. They take with them the irreplaceable memories, experiences and relationships that were woven into the social fabric of the organization’s culture. They were told to take everything and leave nothing behind. The total meaning of that edict was not realized since all of the tasks they performed were not given the same exit strategy. It is a well-documented fact that organizations, as a rule, have little trouble letting go of performers, but cling to their tasks. Unlike the apparitions that haunted Ebenezer Scrooge, these tasks do not float around the organizational setting waiting for clarifying moment in which to appear, but descend on the desks of those who are left behind to watch their workload morph into something that only a comic book illustrator could appreciate.

The ‘Yes’ answer to the first part of the question is best understood when examined after the survivor guilt has waned and those feelings of being overwhelmed are confirmed by the fact that you are overwhelmed. Any objective measure of productivity is replaced by an urgent to need to multi-task, multiple times across multiple time zones while chasing the tail of an unrealized outcome. More tasks are compacted to the overwhelmed equation until it becomes a giant snowball caught in an avalanche headed right for your cubicle. The exhaustion is the result of working longer, not working harder. While productivity, quality and efficiency are still performance measures, it becomes difficult to achieve those outcomes when you have inherited the tasks that were once distributed among 3 employees. This, increasingly, normal blend of mega-tasks and maximum stress provides an opportune moment in which to reshape the process before you are snowed under.

Pull all of the tasks out of the closet: Imagine all of your work tasks as items you’d like to sell on Ebay. If an item no longer has value to the organization, then throw it on a wheel barrel and haul it to the nearest Ebay outlet. Some tasks were never meant to have a long shelf life.

Prioritize the urgent tasks: Keep in mind that your direct supervisor thinks that all of your tasks are urgent. Consequently, the tendency is to believe that all urgent tasks can be completed simultaneously. An over abundance of incomplete tasks should be a catalyst for a conversation with someone about what constitutes urgent.

Put it away until it’s missed: Organizations are self-archiving museums in which every task is preserved for historical retrieval. It is the direct result of the ‘You never know’ philosophy of clinging to something that is a size too small and tattered beyond repair. If no one asks about it, then it is no longer urgent.

The real challenge to staying afloat is to not be weighed down by the pressure of too many urgent tasks. It is not enough to say, ‘That is just the way it is!’ without asking ‘Is that the way you want it to be?’ Sometimes it’s not the big things that get in the way of being highly productive, but the thousand and one little things that congregate around the cube and get in the way of the tasks that really need to be accomplished.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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