I’d like to proceed with itemising Adrian Lock’s remedies for the stress-saturated work-life that today’s business leaders so often find themselves drowning in. If you rarely take the opportunity to slow down, maybe one of these is driving you!

If quarterly reports function as an accelerator pedal, then addiction to emails is an insomnia-inducing, stress-exacerbating stimulant. I’m mixing metaphors, but what’s important is this: in the Odgers Berndtson study, 94% of executives reported that they made themselves available to answer emails day and night (60% kept a mobile device with them at night for this purpose).

What was intended as a tool to work for us – email – becomes a slave-driver. It’s never-ending, causes personal overload and sabotages strategic focus. More broadly, executives should, Lock believes, step back from operational issues (including responding to emails), asking three questions instead:

  • “Does it have to be done?” (Importance)
  • “Do I have to do it?” (Relevance)
  • “Do I have to respond immediately?” (Urgency)

If the answer isn’t an unambiguous “Yes” to all three, “it” can safely be dropped or delegated.

Establishing sacrosanct, interruption-free thinking zones – outside the office if need be – can help return the focus to strategic issues.

Reflect on what drives you. Psychologist Taibi Kahler identified five typical drivers that become dysfunctional when taken to excess (most have their roots in childhood, not work):

  • The need to be perfect, which can prevent you from delegating when it makes sense to do so.
  • The need to be strong, which can blind you to your inevitable limitations and needs for recreation and respite.
  • The need to please others, which can prevent self-protective measures such as saying “No” when appropriate.
  • The need to stay busy, which can turn into futile, exhausting and unproductive over-activity.
  • The need to try hard, which can become punitive, forcing you to push harder when you really need to step back and reappraise.

The final step in learning to slow down is to reclaim the margins – the time and space needed for physical, mental, spiritual and social renewal. Don’t be a slave to technology.

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