Career Coach: When work becomes a runaway train, how to put on the brakes

By Joyce E.A. Russell
Monday, August 9, 2010

By Joyce E.A. Russell

Picture it: You're up late finishing a project which is due the next day and your spouse or kids ask you to watch a movie or play a game. You say, "There's no way I have time for that right now," and you look at them as if they must be crazy. How could they possibly ever think you had any free time?

After all, can't they see that you have a ton of work to do for the next day? If fact, if they just looked, they would see that you have piles of projects just sitting around waiting to be done, bills to be paid, camps to be organized for the kids, pets to be fed, laundry to fold, home repairs to make, dishes to wash, flowers to be watered, cars that need to be serviced, and the list goes on and on. "Free time?" What is that, anyway?

But, for a moment, they got you thinking -- hmm, watch a movie, play a game, have fun, that would be nice. And you wonder, why can't I do that tonight or even tomorrow or the next day? In fact, you start to wonder when you will ever be able to slow down.

Does this sound familiar?

Join the party -- it seems that many of us are feeling overwhelmed these days with so much on our plates, and time that seems to be evaporating in front of our eyes. Feeling overwhelmed, overworked, overloaded and stressed is all too common nowadays. The problem is that these feelings are actually compromising our effectiveness, productivity and efficiency. We get things done but at a cost to both the quality and quantity of work we produce, and at a cost to our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health.

There are some things you can do to help restore balance in your life. Here are a few places to start:

Set goals

Stephen Covey, the author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," also wrote a book called "First Things First." In this book, he points out that you need to set goals for yourself first based on what is most important to you. For example, if your family is on top on your list and you want to make sure you have time for several vacations with family members next year, then block those times first on your calendar and keep those times sacred. Don't let anything else interfere with those times.

Similarly, if being physically fit is important to you, then schedule time for your exercise plan. I know many busy executives who work out several mornings a week (no matter how early it is) to make sure this doesn't get bumped off of their calendar for the day. If you have an assistant who does your daily scheduling, then you need to push back to make sure he/she doesn't overschedule you.

Manage the clutter

We all have clutter -- at our homes, our offices, in our closets. Having clutter around us can make us feel like we are never progressing in completing our "in box" since it looks like none of the piles ever go down.

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