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3 Lessons that Can Change the Way You Work, Lead, and Live

January 18, 2017

From Excitement to Exhaustion

About 15 years ago, I was in my first senior director level role.  I was thrilled and didn’t want to fail, so I worked long, grueling hours to do everything well at once.  About a year into the job, I recall waking up one morning completely exhausted and overwhelmed, the same way I had fallen asleep.  The same way I had been feeling for for months.  My initial enthusiasm for the job had turned into a bone-weary tiredness.  Initial passion and creativity had given way to feeling like a hamster caught in a wheel with no end in sight.  I thought - there has to be a better way to work with passion AND not run myself into the ground.

Wake Up Call

I examined my approach to work.  What I learned was surprising to me, though not uncommon.  It turned out that I didn’t have many work boundaries, so I had a hard time saying to no to requests and projects even if they weren’t important.  I wasn’t sure what my priorities were, so I worked on everything with the same high intensity, leaving me burnt out.  And I had a hard time delegating and asking for help, so I attempted to do everything myself.

A New Approach

This called for a drastic overhaul in how I did my work.  With the help of colleagues, some great books, and a coach, I learned 3 important lessons that still guide my work 15+ years later.  

Clarify priorities.  If you don’t know what’s important, how will anyone else?  Take time, on a regular basis, to ask yourself.  What do I want to achieve? What’s going to help me get there? These are your top priorities.  Regularly assess everything you do to make sure they support your priorities.  If they don’t, stop doing them, say no more often, or find a way to delegate to someone else.  
Say no.  Cultivate a practice of saying no to anything that is not in line with your top priorities.  Saying no will allow you to say YES to the things that really matter, and to make sure that you have the time for them.
Understand that perfection is the enemy of the good.  You cannot give everything 150% without risking yourself in the process. Nor should you strive for it.  This takes us back to lesson #1 – clarify priorities.  Identifying what’s most important will help you make better decisions about where to invest your greatest energy to achieve excellence, and when your “good” is good enough.   

When I applied these lessons, I learned that working long hours didn’t mean that I was necessarily doing great work.  In fact, the impact of my work increased as I said no more often, crystallized my priorities, and stopped trying to be a perfectionist.

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