by Bernie Michalik
You relish being seen as the go-to person when it comes to getting things done. You take pride in your ability to deal with a hefty workload and numerous deadlines without getting tripped up along the way. Yet, no matter how accomplished and efficient you are, there will be times when you get overwhelmed by negative or upsetting events.
Times when you are left wondering how you could possibly accomplish almost anything in the near term – be it the client work that still needs to be completed on time, or the myriad of other commitments and responsibilities crying out for your attention. So what happens when your productivity fails you? As hopeless as it may feel, there are very practical things you can do during such times to keep going:1. Acknowledge that the normal rules don’t apply for the time being. You might normally plough through half of your lengthy to-do list by lunchtime, but now you are having trouble motivating to complete even the smallest of tasks. Rather than deny that reality, accept it and make some temporary adjustments as recommended below.2. Focus on the essential tasks, and cut back on everything else. Your essentials are not your “Should-Do List,” it’s your “Must-Do-To-Survive List.” (If there was ever a time to follow the advice here, now is that time.) If you need to fly out to a family funeral tomorrow, it’s hopeless (and unhealthy) to try and squeeze all of your normal tasks in and around that event. Put those normal activities on hold, and deal with the flight and what comes immediately after it.
3. Make sure you get a lot of rest. When you’re already stressed about not having enough time to get everything done, resting can feel counter-intuitive. But if you don’t get enough rest, the situation can quickly escalate from bad to worse. Instead of being so sick that you can barely take a call lying down, you might find yourself in the hospital. Nourishing your body – and pacing yourself – is extremely important if you want to be as productive as possible during a difficult time.4. Ask for help. Even if you pare your workload down to the absolute minimum, you may still find yourself falling behind. Do the obvious (but sometimes challenging) thing, and ask for help: Delegate work to your co-workers and tap your family and friends for assistance. Your true allies will be happy to help you when you’re in a hard spot: Give them the chance to do some good, and they will.5. Focus on the positive as much as possible. We often make the mistake of shutting out the positive as we wrestle with the negative. Try not to give in to this. Hearing those who are close to you say that you are doing well under the circumstances can be a relief. Don’t be shy: If you need a morale boost, kindly request one. You know who is likely to provide such comfort, why not ask them for it?
6. Reboot yourself. When it looks like the hard times are letting up, seize the moment and decide how you can do things better going forward. If you were very ill, ask yourself how you can improve your health once you are feeling better. Perhaps it’s starting a new fitness routine, resetting your work-life balance, or allocating more time to your family, your friends, and yourself. If you had a work-related crisis, it might be time to reassess why you do what you do, and realign how you spend your time and energy.7. Say thank you. After the clouds pass and the sun begins to shine again, don’t forget about the people who helped in your time of need. Make it a priority to pay back those debts, financial and personal, that you might have drawn on during your difficult time. There are few investments that will pay such good dividends as offering a tangible expression of gratitude to those who took care of you.
When my Dad died in February and I returned to work a couple of weeks later I realised that I needed to reset my expectations. Almost 4 months later I still don't feel that I am operating at my pre-Dad's-death level but each week I grow in my capacity to cope with what my previous self just got on with. Seemingly small things can still unbalance me and large things have the capacity to shake me much deeper than they "normally" would.
Through my time of coping some people have really helped me on both practical and emotional levels - and not always the people I would have expected - friends have helped sort out my family house's garage and shed, and have sent cards, text messages, cake and elephants to remind me that they are thinking of me. These thoughts and caring gestures have been much appreciated, and in time I will, I hope, be able to repay those kindnesses in some way or other.
I wish I'd had access to this article earlier, I would have sent it to my team and my fellow managers to help them understand what was happening to me, what they could expect of me and from me. They were all very sympathetic, but reading this might have helped them to be empathetic as well. It is an article that I plan to refer back to as I continue to adjust to my new level of "normal" and to have on hand to send to others who find themselves in a similar situation.