This post originally appeared on Forbes.
Many people are feeling overwhelmed and burnt out by work, whether their workplaces are fully in-person, completely remote, or hybrid. There’s too much to do, too much going on and expectations on all sides seem to be running higher than ever.
But there are ways to reduce the feeling of being overloaded, according to Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and the new book Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most. McKeown suggests that if we “take on a new mindset and the practical tools that go with it, we can find an easier path [and] get breakthrough results without burning out our teams and our organizations.” If you’re looking for ways to help your people focus and perform better, these seven approaches can help manage both busyness and bureaucracy.
Determine the “state of your team.” Perform a culture check to learn how real-world events and conditions affect your team members. Is some aspect of their work assignment, your relationship with them or their interactions with fellow teammates causing unnecessary disruption? Is their workload manageable, or are the demands so high that they never get a real break from the stress? You can identify significant issues through skillful questioning and open discussion during one-on-ones or team meetings, or use pulse surveys to quickly observe trends. But until you know what you’re dealing with, it’s hard to know what to adjust.
Conduct triage yourself when necessary, rather than leaving it to your people. It’s not enough to review priorities. You have to dig deeper with questions like, “If you’re focusing on the two new projects we’ve highlighted, what will happen to your ongoing work?” Be prepared to talk about which deadlines, meetings or communications will not happen. McKeown suggests asking employees directly how their leaders make work more difficult than it needs to be: “What can we do to make this a bit simpler and easier?” You may need to reschedule or reassign some responsibilities or take them on yourself, rather than leaving team members with unrealistic task lists. When team members can keep their workloads reasonable without worrying that they’re letting people down, work quality will improve and spirits will lift; most people feel significantly better when they know they can maintain forward momentum.
Consider scheduling and work locations from each individual’s point of view. It can be tricky to get team members to share their personal needs for flexibility, but it’s worth understanding what works best for them. Many assignments that don’t involve handling product or delivering a physical service can be done remotely. From time to time, people may need to be physically present for group meetings, but permitting flexibility in work schedules and location can support employees’ lives and well-being, and therefore help you retain crucial team members while recovering from the pandemic—and beyond. In the war for talent, McKeown warns, your best people will leave for “the company that actually understands high performance and high-performing teams.”
Shift your attention from effort to outcomes. One of the tenets of growth mindset is that effort should be praised rather than innate qualities, but it can be dangerous to assume that more effort is always better or that effort alone is enough. “A toxic form of Puritanism,” says McKeown, pushes people to work harder as the solution to every problem and undercuts the possibility of creativity, innovation or a great culture. “If people are just spinning,” he explains, “you get motion sickness instead of momentum… You don’t achieve what you’re trying to achieve, and you still burn everybody out.” Specifying the desired results creates more leeway for implementation and reduces the level of grinding effort.
Create “high trust agreements.” When you communicate your expectations with great clarity, it’s more likely that everyone will stay on track; even if projects or decisions go awry, you can figure out what went wrong, pick up the pieces and continue forward. McKeown asks five questions: What results do we want? Who is doing what? What are the minimum viable standards for outputs? What resources are needed? How will progress be evaluated and rewarded? Once you come to agreement on these components, you’ll create enough shared commitment to prevent working at cross purposes, the way many interdepartmental or complex initiatives often end up.
Declare an end to the day. Knowing there’s a time when work ends can be helpful for both task management and emotional health. A publicized stop time helps enforce better priority management and creates rigor in your triage process: When all important things have to be completed by, say, 5:30, you can’t fill the day with meetings and emails and no time for deep work. A specific end time also creates a sense of fellowship, because everyone on the team stops together. People can’t show off how late they work, and you eliminate the burdensome problem of checking and responding to messages at all hours. A clear delineation between work and non-work hours helps employees be healthier and calmer, and makes it more comfortable to share occasional happy hours or social time as a team.
Not every team and work environment will be able to adopt all of these approaches to simplifying work, but by implementing and adapting as many as possible, you can create cultural norms and a work environment that support your team members’ humanity as well as their productivity.
Onward and upward —