Overloaded at work? Ease up!
Last week Helen*, the CEO of a charity, complained to me about her excessive workload.
She said: “My Board keeps coming up with new ideas to make the organisation more successful - but there’s only me to implement them." She said nobody appreciated that these new ideas would need work to make them succeed, and nobody else offered to get involved.
Helen also complained that she was constantly distracted from her planned tasks, by people coming to check in with her even when “they know perfectly well what to do and how to do it”.
I asked Helen whether she believed that these others were capable of doing the work themselves? She replied that she liked to be in control and never believed that anyone else could do things as well as she could.
A pattern was emerging. It seemed that Helen was great at taking ownership of issues, but perhaps less good at letting go and delegating.
Work overload is often caused by the need for control
As this was explored further, Helen realised that whenever colleagues came to her for advice or guidance, she tended to take over. Instead of reassuring them that they were on the right track, and letting them get on with it, she would jump in, take an active part and put her own stamp on it. This was having a detrimental impact in a number of ways:
- It was inefficient use of time.
- It further undermined her colleagues’ confidence in their own abilities, so they didn’t develop as quickly as they could.
- It was a waste of Helen’s own skills, which could be better employed at the strategic level.
Helen needed to find a way step back and to empower her colleagues, whilst at the same time continuing to offer her support, and ensuring that quality didn’t slip. Part of this involved identifying tasks that she currently did which frustrated her - e.g. some reports that had to be produced regularly and which she couldn’t delegate to anyone else. She realised she could get others to do the time-consuming ground work for her, so all she had to do was produce the final elegant phrases that described the activity.
Another issue that annoyed her was a colleague asking for help with writing emails that she felt he was perfectly capable of doing himself. She admitted that she typically fell into the trap of writing the email, so perpetuating this behaviour! She agreed that next time,she would ask her colleague to write it himself, and simply to copy Helen in, leaving her free to add any additional thoughts afterwards.
Helen felt it was going to be quite a challenge to take a step back, and that it would take time for others to get used to their new-found responsibility (or maybe freedom!).
Are you adding real value to YOUR organisation?
If you sometimes get distracted from the work that adds real value, you may like to try some of the techniques practised by Helen. Don’t forget to find a buddy to support you, if you think that taking action will be challenging.
*Name changed to protect identity
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