Unburying Yourself: Advice for the Overloaded, from Dr. Reality, International Mentor

bigstock-Overworked-Employee-44770891Dr. Reality has received an intriguing letter for this blog. It basically confronts a red-hot workplace issue, “Is it possible to perform at a level of maximum output without burning oneself into smoldering human wreckage?”

Well, let’s read it first, shall we?

Dear Dr. Reality:     

You have always been so candid and practical with your advice. This is my first time writing you, and I have a particularly challenging dilemma that is driving me nuts.

I invest totally of myself on the job. I do so with largely altruistic motives, but of course I also want to have a successful career. My problem is that the more I do, the more I do. It has reached the point where I find myself routinely doing two, or even more, tasks at the same time. I suspect that the quality of my outputs may be suffering as a result.

At the same time I have continued my practice of doing favors for people and taking on extra work. I polish the right apples, gladly offer my help and participation, and believe I have a solid image within the organization. In short, I’m a good corporate citizen, and doing okay. The problem is that “going nuts” thing.

So Dr. Reality, can you give me a strategy to negotiate my way through this workload swamp? I want to help, and I want to go the extra mile. But now I’m the one who needs help. I don’t know whether to go to a shrink, or go bowling.

Successfully yet exhaustedly yours,
Concerned Corporate Climber

Dear Concerned:

Swamp it is, indeed, complicated by excessive commitment and unlimited demand. Who among us has not had lunch with a colleague who is trying to maintain the conversation while simultaneously taking calls, checking emails on their smart phones, and preparing the agenda for their next meeting? You didn’t use the term “multitasking,” but it sounds as if that’s also part of your uphill battle.

Don’t misinterpret Dr. Reality. He knows that work is part of the stuff life is made of. And he commends you for your inspired willingness to do whatever it takes, often concurrently with other tasks. But it is much better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver. And unfortunately, in the counting house of life, people soon forget the many things you did very well and remember the few that barely met the minimum standard.

So be careful, Concerned, that in trying to be a top performer, you don’t hoist yourself on your own petard. The next time you feel it’s happened again, ask the following question: “Why did I do this to myself?”

Sympathetically yet emphatically yours,
Dr. Reality

Additional thoughts from the good doctor:

At this time of year when we make and break New Year’s resolutions, it may be helpful for Dr. Reality to point out a few absolute and undeniable truths about the way things are:

  • In order to complete tasks, people frequently need help from others.
  • Influencers holding responsibility often select some milestones and declare them to be crises. The announcers may be bosses, peers, or (gasp!) direct reports.
  • Prospective helpers obligingly pitch in, but when word gets out that this strategy works, there is a marked increase in crisis declarations throughout the organization.
  • Before long, everyone’s hair is on fire.

Make no mistake. Dr. Reality fervently believes that doing work, even a lot of work, is a wonderful idea. It’s good for the job, and also for the career. However, over time, trying to be everything to everyone carries the risk of becoming counterproductive. With a high level of motivation and willingness, it is possible to go too far in one’s efforts to add more value. Solution: By all means consider extraordinary requests, but mind your priorities.

Dr. Reality agrees with Peter Drucker, who once said that when it comes to taking on additional work, almost everybody is a volunteer. But do you know people who regularly, perhaps unwittingly, throw themselves under the bus? Ironically, they later complain about their plight, apparently forgetting they did it to themselves.

Picture this: a construction worker opens his lunch pail, and loudly complains, “Oh no, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hate getting this for lunch.” The next day, the same thing happens. He says, “I can’t believe this, another PB&J sandwich. Not again.” This happens day after day, and finally another worker asks, “Why don’t you just ask your wife to make you a different sandwich?” The guy answers, “What are you talking about? I make my own lunch.”

In real life, you can’t unbury yourself. But you can prevent yourself from being buried in the first place.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Reality is the alter ego of Dr. Dick Ruhe, senior consultant and keynote speaker with The Ken Blanchard Companies.  If you have problems, he can help. Simply email us here at LeaderChat. His solution will both amaze and help you. (Why? Because he’s simply that good.) Let us know what you think.

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