Avoid work overload – slow down and listen!
By Catherine Hamilton, InterCHANGE People Development Associate
When time is against us we can automatically speed up – that includes our movements, thinking and our speaking. But what if we slowed down in order to make better use of the time available to us? After all we have all the time there is –there are never going to be more than 24 hours in the day or 7 days in a week or 365 days per year. So instead of saying “I wish I had more time” ask yourself: “How do I make better use of the time available to me?”
When we die I’m sure our last words won’t be “ I wish I’d sent 50 more emails!” but we most probably will regret not having spent more time with family, friends, pursuing our hobby, serving in the community and so forth.
Remember – presenteeism sends the wrong messages and long hours are associated with lower productivity per hour worked.
So what can we do? Well we know about prioritising using the urgent / important matrix and “big rocks” technique no doubt. So what else can we do? How about employing our listening and questioning skills to better effect?
When we’re rushed and trying to juggle 10 things at once we can easily slip into listening selectively and relying on our own assumptions and unconscious competence to fill in the gaps – sometimes we miss the key words or message, particularly when speaking, and can equally skim over information when reading quickly.
However, when we slow down, being present in the moment and listen to what is really being said, we are more likely to receive the intended message and understand what is required of us. Therefore, it follows that we are more likely to make better decisions based on quality information, or complete delegated tasks to the required standard and on time.
Slowing down and listening = improved personal effectiveness.
Ask when on receiving end of delegation!
If we ask effective and open questions we can help the task giver to be clearer in their instructions and aid our understanding too. If we ask more about why we are doing something to clarify the purpose we are likely to help both parties articulate the real purpose and focus attention on what really needs to be done.
For example, “Please can you finish off that report by tonight” creates an unnecessary urgency before understanding the requirements of the task.
What is the report needed for? (Helps you understand context and relevance of task)
Does it need to be completed by me? (Results in best use of your time and talents and tests whether task could be delegated to more appropriate person)
Does it need completing tonight? (Results in assessing the urgency of task and testing whether it could be incorporated into your existing schedule)
And it works when delegating too!
When delegating we need to ask more specific questions such as “So what will you do first?”; “How do you think you will go about that?” “What else do you need to know?” rather than “Are you OK with all that?” or “Do you understand?” Both of these closed questions only need a nod or grunt and we know no more from the recipient than we did before we asked the question!
Top tips to avoid work overload
- Listen actively to really hear the message and summarise to check understanding
- Ask questions for clarity and pinpoint the real issue or task
- Ask questions to ensure the task needs doing and by you and now
- Slow down to listen and check you are doing the right things right first time
- Ask yourself what is stopping you from doing something, and then tackle the blocks step by step