Performing Under Pressure When it Counts the Most

Rob Warner

Too many people making demands on you? Too much to do and too little time to do it in? Too many e-mails and too many meetings? Does everyone want a piece of you?

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone.

People working in organisations today are increasingly stressed, having to achieve more with fewer resources. In a recent survey, 80% of the respondents said their workload had increased substantially and most felt overwhelmed.

You know that feeling constantly overwhelmed is an indication of a dangerously high level of stress. You also know that high levels of stress have really bad impacts on you, affecting your productivity, your colleagues and your loved ones.

But if you're like so many others, understanding the negative consequences of feeling consistently overwhelmed doesn't mean you know what to do to change!

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help. Here are seven things that have helped leaders and managers I coach, and may help you too:

1. Ask yourself: whose life are you living?It's easy to get sucked into trying to meet everyone else's needs and live up to their expectations. For example, trying to be a perfect leader; a supportive colleague; the ideal mother or the best partner in the bedroom. Trying to fulfil expectations like this is exhausting and will leave you feeling overwhelmed. The solution is to reconnect with that which is really important for you. Ask yourself what brings you joy? What makes you feel complete? What helps you live the life you desire? If you had the courage and means, what life would you create for yourself? The answers to these questions will help you regain your perspective on what's really important in your life.

2. Ask yourself: what is not important in the long run?Make a list of the issues that are stressing you. For each one, ask yourself if they give you value in life and if they will matter in three years time. Mark each one that fulfils both these criteria with a tick. Most overwhelmed people are amazed that while they have a very long list, very few of their items have ticks against them. The items with a tick are those things that you really need to spend time on and ensure you don't neglect, despite all the demands on you. The rest, not so much.

3. Take off your Superman/Superwoman cape.Multitasking is another name for doing many things poorly. Delegating and saying "no" are powerful shields against feeling overwhelmed.You may, however, feel reluctant to say "no" because it might be disrespectful and we don't want to be unhelpful. Right?Well, saying no respectfully is much better than committing yourself to more than you can accomplish, and then letting down the other person. Even if you bust a gut trying to meet the needs of others, but fail, they will remember your failure rather than how hard you tried.So respectfully decline a request by saying something like: "With my current priorities, that would be difficult. I don't want to make a commitment to you and then let you down. Is there another way we can do this?"

4. Change with baby steps.Business encourages us to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. In your personal life, however, it's much more effective to take several incremental small steps, right now. Taking several small steps prevents being paralysed by indecision and procrastination waiting for the ideal solution to come along. To start, break down the goals, changes or tasks into smaller, bite-sized chunks. Accomplishing a single small change will make you feel good and encourage you to take a second step, and then a third, as you move towards reaching your bigger goal.I frequently felt overwhelmed trying to write my 140 000 word Building Resilience Handbook. The breakthrough was realising that the solution lay in writing 500 words a day for 280 days. The small goal of 500 words a day felt doable, and with persistence, I finished the book.

5. Make meetings worthwhile.I have yet to find someone who says they attend productive meetings! Given the huge amount of time everyone spends in meetings, you could perhaps ask that your meetings discuss topics that:

- you have been notified of in advance, so you can prepare  - have a specific purpose, such as "For information" or a "For a decision" - have a person assigned as responsible for introducing the topic - have a time allocated for the discussion

6. Ask for help.Most people delay asking for help, and with time the problem gets worse. The solution is to identify a colleague at work and a close friend outside of work whom you can trust, and ask them if you may use them as a sounding board. Take your problems to them and ask for their ideas and comments on your solutions. Remember, strong people ask for help; weak people hide!7. Schedule self-care.You know you should rest, take time out, spend time rejuvenating with friends and family. And yet for many of us, particularly at year-end, our personal needs and even health are the first to be sacrificed when under pressure to meet the needs of others. So, establish a self-care schedule, making time for friends and loved ones, and also making sure that you eat regularly and healthily, exercise, and have sufficient hydration and sleep. Allocating blocks of time in their diary for leisure, recreation and family works for many people.Reduce your exposure to social media. Decide beforehand how many times you will check your e-mails and Facebook in the evenings and over the weekend -- and then stick to it!

Oops! I need to end this to rush off to another meeting........


Rod Warner (Head of Personal Resilience and Accountability)

Rod has specialised in Resilience and Accountability for the last 14 years. He has taught people around the world from high-level executives to University students and SME owners, unlocking their ability to live a fulfilling and joyful life in the face of the unexpected hurdles human life brings.

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