Biggest Mistakes of the Chronically Overwhelmed

We have all had times in our lives when we have bitten off more than we can chew.  It’s human nature for many of us in the helping field of healthcare.  We are overly optimistic about how much we can accomplish.  It is our optimism and desire to serve others that gets us into trouble.

In coaching front line leaders in health care, I see many making the same mistakes over and over again, and wondering why they can’t achieve their goals.

Is this you?

1.  You are an early adopter.  You love new ideas and want to be the first to pilot, so you volunteer.

2.  You love to help other people.   If a coworker from another department has a crisis, and they need your help, you drop everything on your to do list to help.

3.  You are easily distracted and welcome interruptions. Sitting down and planning for a better future is boring compared to fixing or problem solving an urgent issue.

4.  You like being the “go to” person who helps when others might take a pass.  It’s all about the team, right?

5.  You believe that “one more thing” won’t significantly impact your workload, so you say yes.

The problem lies in your optimism and spirit of teamwork.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  

1.  The “one more thing”  is probably the tenth extra thing you took on.

2.  As the “go to” person, you are so busy helping others that you are not helping your own department, or staff.

3.  The distractions prevent you from spending time doing your best thinking, to build a better future.

4.  The spirit of teamwork may not be reciprocated.  You help others to “pay it forward”.  Do you ask for help in return?  Do you get help or support when you need it?

5.  Always being the early adopter can put a strain on your staff,  and distract you from your core work.  It can also rob other peers of the opportunity to be a pilot site.

angel_marquee-newFor all this teamwork and action packed activity you will be rewarded, right?  People around you will recognize and appreciate all you do, right?  Your staff will see how hard you are working, right??????

Wrong……….. here’s what your peers and staff see:

1.  You are so busy.

2.  You stay late and bring your work home.

3.  You can be counted on to volunteer for extra work.

4.  Your staff are dealing with work processes that are inefficient because you are too busy to attend to your own house.

5.  You fall behind in meeting deadlines because you added one more thing for someone else.

6.  You are becoming increasingly anxious as you become overwhelmed.

Is this what a leader looks like?

Prioritization Matrix 2A leader spends time working in the upper right hand quadrant of the priority matrix.   A leader has focus and spends their time doing the right things at the right time.   If you are overwhelmed, chances are that you are not saving enough time for the sacred work that gets done in the upper 
right, or quadrant II.

Think about the leaders you admire.  Do they have an aura of peacefulness and balance or frenetic activity?

Which leader are you?  Which leader do you want to be?

What can you do?

1.  Analyze your time for one week.  How much of your time at work or play is spent in each quadrant?

2.  Learn to say no.  Explain to a requester what priorities you currently have an why you cannot take on an additional project at this time.

3.  When you must say yes, be realistic.  What priorities do you currently have and when can you fit in a new project or activity?  How long will it take you to complete the work when you fit it around your work?  Is there an opportunity to share the project or activity with a subordinate as a growth opportunity?  Don’t just plop it on top of your important work and hope for the best.

4.  Don’t invite interruptions, especially when you are doing upper right quadrant work.  Shut your door.  Let calls go to voice mail.

5.  Respect your work and your time as much as the work and time of others.

It’s time to reclaim your priorities and focus on what is most important to you and those you lead.

Thanks for reading my blog and engaging in the process of thinking about your leadership potential.

Happy thinking, planning, being!




Rescue a drowning leader

What does it look like when a leader is drowning and needs to be rescued?  Have you ever been overwhelmed and didn’t want to share this fact with your supervisor? Sometimes it’s hard to spot.  If you are the one drowning, you know it.  How can you keep your head above water, or help those you lead stay stay afloat when the tide of work rises?

red_life_buoy_on_wooden_wall_background_padfolioMy favorite tool for leaders who are feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed with the amount of work on their plate is the “Sticky Note” exercise or “Brain Dump”.  This is the best 45-60 minutes you can spend to get a handle on the work and clear your mind of all the worries.

This link to my website coaching page has the instructions for the “sticky note” exercise that will enlighten you and end with a realistic plan to get the most important things done.   I have helped numerous leaders dig out from leadership quicksand in one telephonic coaching call using this tool.   Arm yourself with a pack of good sticky notes to write everything down that you do or need to do and have a large surface to arrange,  categorize, prioritize and schedule what is most important to you and your success.  You can do it on your own or with a trusted coworker or supervisor.  The important thing is to DO IT.  Time spent thinking and planning will put you on the right track in doing the right things at the right time and give you peace of mind that you haven’t forgotten something.

Thanks for reading my blog!  Happy thinking, planning, doing!


Drowning prevention, rescue and treatment: Prevention First

The clinical, front-line managers that I coach often describe their feelings about their workload as “I’m drowning”,  “I feel like my head is spinning”, “I am overwhelmed”.    These leaders are conscientious, go getters who were recognized for their initiative and promoted into leadership positions.  They have a desire to please, and accept an overwhelming workload and mounting assignments in a spirit of teamwork and optimism.  They are hanging by a thread and they are afraid to tell you.

teaching staying afloatIf you are supervising a front line leader, what are you doing?  Are you helping or hurting?  Do you continue to pile on the work because these go getters are willing?  Have you evaluated their workload and supported taking tasks off their plate?  Have you helped them prioritize what is really important, and what can be delegated?  Have you coached these leaders on spending time on non-urgent, important tasks, like relationship building, planning and designing better processes, strategizing to build a better future, to get out of the firefighting mode?

Our front-line leaders in healthcare are drowning and yet we need them to be the captain of the patient safety and patient experience ship.  Here’s what you can do to throw your drowning manager a life raft to improve the longevity of these managers and improve the experience of the patients and staff they serve:

  1. Make time for non urgent, important activities a priority.  Leaders need time to think, plan and strategize as well as build relationships and have fun.  Provide planning time in retreats, encourage planning time on leader’s schedules even if it means time away from the office.  Role model this by scheduling or promoting fun activities that build bonds within your team. Use this helpful prioritization matrix as a tool for yourself and those you lead.
  2. Evaluate their schedules and workload.  Analyze their time.   Be realistic.   How much time is spent on daily and monthly schedules, meetings, patient and employee rounding, patient, physician and employee concerns?   What time is left over for improvement?
  3. Before adding a task or responsibility, determine what can be let go. What activities no longer add value?  What activities can be delegated to subordinates as a growth opportunity?
  4. Reevaluate time spent in meetings. What meetings can be eliminated?  What meetings can be scheduled in 30 minutes instead on an hour?  Can daily leadership huddles provide a valuable communication venue and eliminate other management meetings?
  5. Create clear expectations around teamwork and serving patients. Support departments must support the leaders who support direct caregivers.  If service from a support department is lacking, don’t burden the recipient of the service with fixing the problem.
  6. Provide safe harbor…a mentor, coach trusted peer who can be an objective sounding board and who is willing to ask the tough questions about what is realistic and what demands needs to be triaged away. Make it safe for the manager to speak to you about their concerns about workload.  Build the conversation into your supervision meeting agendas.  “Are there important activities on your plate that you want to spend more time on?”  “Are you finding enough time to think and plan for the future?”

Continue reading Drowning prevention, rescue and treatment: Prevention First