Archive: Feel free to call a “time-out” whenever you need it — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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In business today, everything relies on “getting things done.” We rush about from one task to another, striking things off our to-do lists and yet, come the end of the day, we still don’t feel very good about ourselves. We still feel like something is missing. That “something” is time — time to think, time to savor, time to relax. That said, how do you find time when there is so much to do — and why is finding time so necessary?

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Here we are in the midst of the holidays here in the US — a time for family, fun and relaxation — and yet most people are stressed. Combine all the daily stress with the additional stress of the holidays and you have a volatile mix. Our own productivity obsession drives us to try to do more and more with less and less time until we finally crash. It is no wonder that there are more health problems around the holidays. Sure, the weather is colder, but we also push ourselves to the breaking point. Who knew that trying to have fun could be so much work?

What it means, of course, is we need to stop forcing our lives to conform to some internal schedule. We need to slow down and realize that not everything can or will get done in the day — and be ok with that. I know, I can hear your cries now. “…but my boss wants this done by Thursday” or “…the bid has to be in my 5 o’clock.” You know what? Sometimes you just have to let it pass. The truth is, not everything is a crisis unless we allow it to become one. Sure, sometimes we will get caught in the intersection of bad planning and poor timing, but most often we inflict these crises on ourselves. We could have planned better months ago, when this wasn’t a crisis. We could have decided to let this opportunity pass, knowing that we had plenty of work already. Instead, though, we try to bull our way through, fighting time, fighting others and, in some cases, trying to fight even the laws of nature.

When you start to feel the stress rising, along with tempers, you have to take a time out and get some perspective on what is really happening. I am sure you have seen this concept at work at a sporting event. Your home team is down several points and it seems like the opponents are pushing them at every turn. The game is being played on their terms, with their timing. In cases like these, the coach will often call a time out. This gives his team a chance to clear their heads, re-focus on the game and it also helps to slow down the momentum of the other team, right when they had things going their way.

Consider taking more time outs in your day-to-day work. We often let the momentum of stressful situations run away with us. We start playing its game instead of doing what really needs to be done. Then, as with any decisions made under stress, we start to make the wrong decisions, work on the wrong tasks, get angry at the wrong people. We are no longer in control, the stress is.

Don’t be surprised, though, when you get a tremendous amount of “push back” from those around you. They are so ensnared in their crises that any attempt to stop and think about the situation will feel, to them, like a complete breakdown, leading to immediate failure. They will see your inaction as a threat — an attempt to sabotage them and their actions. You are showing them the way, though, no matter how much they might not appreciate it. Done often enough, your calls for a time-out to stop and think will prove to be the best action possible. In fact, this is the best thing you can do for yourself, if not for them, as it gives you time to think — time to make better, clearer, smarter decisions.

If you want to get better at your job, increasing your speed could be exactly the opposite of what you need. Instead you need to slow down, take time, consider your actions and stop being driven by the productivity monster. You just might find that you can be even more productive if you just stop trying so hard.


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