At any given time in my coaching practice, I work with leaders and professionals who are experiencing overload. Overload to me means "too much." They are stretched to the limit. They haven't hit burnout, but if the present trend continued on for long, it would be the next stage of "too much."
As a Christian worker, I know the territory well and have looked for some answers to one particular question. "When it has to be done, and you have to do it, and it's just too much, what can you do?" There are no easy answers, but I think there is help.
First, let's get a taste of the criticism leveled by others who mean well, but don't always understand.
"He must not be able to delegate."
- There are some things that are sensitive enough that they can't be delegated.
- Sometimes the people who could make themselves available, don't.
- If it needs to be done now and in the midst of a tight schedule, sometimes showing someone how can take far, far longer than just doing it yourself.
"He must not be able to manage his time very well."
- Even the best time manager hits periods of "too much" when volume is the challenge, not efficiency.
"He must be a workaholic."
- The work does have to get done.
- Deadlines are important.
- Others may leave for home before the work is finished.
"So and so did that for years, and we never heard a complaint from them."
- But good old so and so was a different person who lived a different life in a different time.
- Our emotional energy levels are different.
So what CAN you do? For those of you who know what I am talking about, you know the answers don't come easy. This is what I have concluded thus far. I realize that each of the points may be hard fought for you, and only you will understand that they are not an attempt at trite, pat answers.
- When it has to be done, God will give what you need to get it done. If God has asked you to be in the situation you are in, then he will give strength for it commensurate with the need. If He has allowed you to be in this problematic situation, be certain that He is there with you. You are not left alone.
- Break it down into as small of pieces as you can. Emotionally you can handle something smaller easier than a large overburdening "must." Writing it down can often change the nature of anxiety and ease the pressure.
- Take conscious breaks, even if they are short. Be conscious of God with you. Focus on enjoying something totally unrelated to the task. Celebrate completion and success at each and every stage.
- Tell the truth. Be very clear about what is going on. Cut through any emotional layers and state objectively what is happening or not happening. Look at it from other people's points of view also. Solving something that doesn't really exist won't work. Solving the symptom rather than the cause doesn't work long term either. But if you can name the real problem, you can be intentional about addressing it.
- Start planning for the long term. If there is a problem, you can't solve it today. But you can begin to develop a strategy that will address the problem down the road.
- Consider your future. Extend the present conditions out another 5 years. Can you see yourself there? If you can then God will give you everything you need for staying put. If you can't, then radical changes may be in order. This isn't easy. Our lives are complex. There may be a whole number of indicators coming together that it is time to move on.
- Share with others. Find those who understand. They may not be able to change the situation, but they can listen. Find prayer partners. Prayer support is the single most powerful tool to sustain you and give you direction. Intentionally carve out the time to work with a personal Coach to see yourself and your situation clearly and know what to do next.
- Finally … get some good laughs. Find some funny people to be with. Carve out the time to do it and have some good fun. Taking things seriously all the time is a drag.
These are a few suggestions you might try incorporating into your own experience. But do take ownership of something instead of letting resentment and bitterness build over everyone leaving you holding the bag.
It’s not the volume of work that has the biggest potential to lead to burnout; it’s the feelings toward your own situation, your perceived lack of control and your attitudes toward the people around you that will bite you.
Taking care of some of the basics can go a long way to addressing these things. Look, there are times as leaders that we just need to do what needs to be done. No amount of griping about it will change the fact. But the attitude I choose to adopt can make the difference between getting it done with some degree of joy and making it a miserable experience altogether. Let’s aim for the former.