How to respond to a crisis…or just regular overwhelmed-ness

August 18, 2011

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time. Sometimes being overwhelmed is situational — caused by a specific event or crisis that causes the rest of our work and life to pushed out of kilter. Sometimes that overwhelmed feeling is a symptom of an on-going imbalance between what we’re trying to accomplish, those things we have agreed to be responsible for, and the resources (of time, personnel, money) that we have to meet those responsibilities. In this situation, it’s important to devise a plan to remedy the situation. If you don’t, things will continue to function in a way that’s less than effective and that makes you feel bad both about yourself and the work you’re trying to do.

Michael Hyatt is someone whose ideas on productivity and leadership I especially value. In a recent post he identified some ways to respond to this sort of feeling of being overwhelmed. You can read the post here.

To summarize Hyatt’s points:

It’s important to know the difference so that you can respond appropriately.

A situational cause is specific, limited, and (hopefully) non-repeating. In order to respond to it creatively it’s necessary to do several things:

  1. Evaluate the relative importance of the crisis. On a scale of 1 to 10 how important is this crisis — does it strike at the very heart of your organization’s vision and mission? Or, is it something that is urgent but tangential to the core business you have?
  2. Evaluate the appropriate timeline for the crisis. How long will it take to respond adequately to this situation? Make a liberal estimate and then add 25%.
  3. Ask, whose help do I need to respond well to this? It’s unlikely that you have all the resources you need either to respond well to the situation itself or to handle the increased stress and pressure that results from a crisis. Identify key people to help you deal with the situation itself and also to help deal with you as you deal with the crisis.
  4. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. How many times have I planned with the best case scenario and ended up dealing with something worse than I planned for? Too many to count. It’s best to think of the worst outcome you can imagine and gear yourself to deal with that. Prepare for it. At the same time, don’t fixate on it. Picture a healthier outcome that produces good for all of the parties to the conflict or crisis. Work toward that, but be prepared for something else.
  5. Get help in covering your normal responsibilities. Crises don’t mean that the rest of your world and the rest of your work ceases to exist. Many of us are wired to think and behave as though this is the case — I know I am. Make plans to delegate the critical elements of your work to others for the duration of your crisis response. This certainly means have your personal assistant step up his involvement in managing your day-to-day life. It also means identifying critical job responsibilities and making sure those are covered either by your direct reports, your peers, or by some other appropriate person. You don’t want to expend a huge amount of effort in responding to a difficult situation only to return to your normal, on-going work hopelessly behind and impossibly deflated.
Sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed isn’t related to a single, difficult situation that has arisen at work. Instead it is a symptom of an imbalance between the responsibilities we have undertaken and the resources we have at our disposal to address them.
Michael Hyatt is someone whose insights on leadership and productivity I find to be extremely valuable. He has an excellent post on dealing with this sort of problem. Read it here.
Allow me to summarize Hyatt’s points — I absolutely encourage you to check out his site for lots of good resources for learning to lead intentionally.
When Hyatt realized that his responsibilities were greater than his resources to address them he did seven things:
  1. He decided to make a change. As many of my counselor friends have told me: people change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.
  2. He identified the things only he could do. Each of us has high payoff activities in our jobs — they are our strengths — where we really add value to our organization or ministry. Identify these and make them central to your work.
  3. He identified his biggest productivity sinkholes. These are the things that take the most time and effort for the lowest return — not our strengths! They don’t really advance our core mission or do so at a cost that is too high. Make plans to reduce this stuff.
  4. He reviewed the basics of productivity. I think it was Einstein who said that doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for different results is the very definition of insanity. How often do we try to do our work the same way we always have and expect to somehow eventually not be overwhelmed! Do it, delegate it, defer it. Automate it, eliminate it, or delegate it. Whatever you do…plan to get rid of it.
  5. He decided that simply because he could do something didn’t mean he should do something. Is it really good stewardship to spend $35 per hour to do something that could be done by someone for $12 per hour?
  6. He hired a virtual personal assistant. In other words, he got help.
  7. Schedule the important stuff. The principle here is schedule out blocks of time for your important, high return activities and force your low return, productivity sinkholes into small blocks of time that are limited.
Whew! I know that over the next week, I’m going to be reviewing Michael Hyatt’s tips and revisiting the way that I’m structuring my work day in order to feel less overwhelmed! What about you?