Shifting the balance for greater leadership – part 1

Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the hours you work or the projects you are juggling?

When coaching new and experienced healthcare managers, I’ve noticed a trend of ‘burn-out’ and ‘over-load’ being discussed as serious issues in the workplace. It is concerning to hear these managers talk about the long hours they work, the weekends lost to emails and reports, and the subsequent strain experienced by their families.

Sadly, there is no easy answer to this problem. Even healthcare businesses are being pushed to reduce costs and raise productivity, and this often means that people find themselves with more work and less resources. Add the challenge of employing quality staff, especially in remote locations, and we escalate the problem further.

To cope, employees are working longer, and often experiencing feelings of resentment, frustration and even anger for doing so. Many find that they strive to do a good job, yet are left thinking that they are never quite doing anything well, rather doing lots of things poorly. For the high achievers, this can be a major issue!

So if there is no easy answer, where do we start?

As leaders, it is critical that we start by thinking about our own life balance. This can sound counter intuitive – “What?! I don’t have time to think about getting balance back!”

Balance does not necessarily mean segregating parts of our life. Life happens, it’s complicated and the various aspects we experience overlap. So I’m not talking about a set ratio for example, for ‘work’ vs ‘life’. It’s 100% life, no matter what we are doing!

Rather than work vs life ratios, let’s start shifting the balance across our many focus points.

Each day, we have the opportunity to choose where we focus. With work pressures, many of us choose to focus there until we can feel a bit better and not be so overwhelmed. The problem is, there  will always be work pressure; working harder doesn’t always bring relief. So we start stressing about how we feel, and this interferes with listening to our kids at dinner, then we stay up late chasing emails and we miss a favourite movie that makes us laugh.

And then we feel like we’ve failed in achieving this elusive ‘work-life’ utopia.

It’s too big, it’s too hard and really, it’s not practical. Some days we need to spend a few extra hours at work, some days a friend’s funeral is more important than a deadline, some days we kick-butt by getting a report done AND get to a child’s soccer game. Life is complicated. There is no magic ‘work-life’ target.

If we aim for something that is not realistic, we may always be disappointed.

Could we possibly just start by simply making some different choices? Even small choices. Just shifting the balance. Not aiming for a perfectly balanced, instagram-ready, picture-postcard life.

Maybe we could see each day as having several focus points that are important. And be strict about what little time we have to focus on each.

One task focus..

It may at first seem counterintuitive, yet reducing what we focus on may hold the key to balance.

So we choose to focus on completing just one task – or two if you really must! – in the work day. Rather than trying to complete 20 and worrying as well about another 30!

Maybe we then experience a sense of achievement, so feel ready to choose to focus only on our child’s funny story over dinner. Maybe then we feel refreshed enough that we can choose to focus on answering 5 emails in 10 minutes. Before then choosing to focus on the romantic comedy we love so much. (“Love Actually”, right?!).

In coaching healthcare leaders, I am delighted when they report back that focusing on achieving just one thing in their work day frequently leads them to optimal productivity; they actually get many more things off their to-do list. It’s all about starting with the right (realistic) focus and not cluttering our brains with worry about how ‘busy’ we are.

You have a choice where to focus.

Although it may seem like the unachievable, you will never reduce the overwhelm unless you try. And yes, it’s hard. Yes you will slip up. Yes you will think there’s an e-tool, template or guru who can solve this.

No, it’s you.

And you have choice.

No matter how small that choice might seem, make it a choice in the right direction. Or choose to let the overwhelm win. Choose to blame work. NO! CHOOSE FOCUS. YOU’VE GOT THIS!

Next week – part 2 – The balance beyond work.


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2 thoughts on “Shifting the balance for greater leadership – part 1”

  1. A very thought provoking paper…I used to be like this and fret for everything I couldn’t achieve and spend a lot of time ruminating over this. Yes a lot of energy gone for little outcome or achievements. Now that I have gained a work life balance (through careful acceptance of tasks that I choose to undertake) is very self empowering and gives me a sense of control to my life and how I want it to play out. I see an inexperienced clinical manger completely overwhelmed with her work load and spends a lot of time saying how busy she is yet she appears to be very unproductive at the moment. I have suggested some of the strategies you have identified to assist with this and feel reassured Ive offered some options that will give her reflections to think about her work priorities and balance in this area.

    1. Wonderful that you have implemented changes that have been effective! That sense of control is very important – often when we feel like we have lost control, that creates a threat response in the brain and we are driven more by emotion, resulting in more stress and usually less achievement. It all becomes a vicious cycle. Yes, being ‘busy’ is a bit of an interesting one we will continue to explore here – busy doesn’t always mean productive!

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