Somewhere along the way, with the best of intentions to serve better and grow faster, we have become human “doings” swimming in a sea of to-do lists, pursuing the next productivity hack, desperately grasping at the idea that our task lists have a bottom.
We’ve built our identities and our businesses on what we do, not who we want to be. We become human doings instead of human beings. In this doing state, there is always a task list taunting you, a plan to be perfected, a project to be completed, a call to be returned and just one more corner that must be turned. And so we become unwitting accomplices in the demise of our own happiness and well-being.
Today the competing demands of working from home and managing client expectations and markets, plus for many the additional demands of parenting and teaching, are leading many into a state of being overwhelmed, of feeling suffocated by the complexity and competing demands that come with these utterly unexpected and beyond uncertain times.
This environment sends our brain into stress state, kicking in our survival instincts, releasing stress chemicals. From this fight-or-flight state, we respond instinctively with the singular goal of survival.
No solutions can be found in this stress state. Your prefrontal cortex, the problem-solving, solution-finding part of your brain, is shut down because the blood flow is more needed by the heart and muscles, the better to fight harder and flee faster to deal with the immediate threat. In stress state, you are forced to deal with near-term threats to your survival, shutting down your desperately needed strategic perspective.
If you recognize this in your own life, your next objective isn’t to complete the to-do list. It’s to learn how to co-exist with it in a way that leaves you feeling empowered, rather than endangered.
I was coaching an adviser last week who had taken two weeks off to care for her ill mother. Upon her return, she was overwhelmed by her workload and severely stressed. I asked her to take three deep breaths and tell me the feeling behind her mental chatter. “Disappointment,” she said. “I can’t get it all done without killing myself, and I’m exhausted. But I can’t let anyone down.”
We took a two-pronged approach: right now and rearview. Right now is an immediate strategy that can be used to improve the situation, while rearview is finding the big picture issue we need to solve to make sure being overwhelmed stays in the rearview mirror.
The near-term solution was for the adviser to segment her open client service needs into three buckets: those that needed attention in the next week or two, those that could be addressed in the weeks and months following, and those that could be added to the next client review agenda.
Next, she drafted an email to clients in each of the three time frames. It explained her personal situation and how she would be addressing their service issue, with the messaging personalized by the bucketed time frame. Communicating honestly with clients and bringing expectations into the realm of reality brought her instant relief.
Then I helped her created a structured service model to systematize the factory work so that she and her team could focus on the work that delivers real value to clients. From there, she committed to implementing client meeting surges — grouping client meetings into set times of the year, typically once in the spring and once in the fall, for six- to- eight-week periods. You can download my free meeting surge training here to get insights on how to make surges work for you.
The result? After the adviser shifted out of stress state into a success state, she was able to take the small but seismic step to move her focus from what she had to do to who she wanted to be. She wanted to run a practice that delivered massive value to clients with integrity and authenticity, while feeling good about her work and the role it played in her life. She wanted to serve, not suffer.
Shifting from stress state to success state is a behavior habit you build, bringing greater awareness and control over your headspace with practice. It starts with something as simple as a few deep breaths to clear your mental chatter, a five-minute walk outside, your favorite sporting activity, or any other practice that brings the headspace for you to separate yourself from the stress you feel.
Stephanie Bogan is a business strategist and success coach, CEO of Educe and chief possibility officer for Limitless Adviser Coaching. You can follow Stephanie on Twitter at @steph_bogan or reach her at [email protected]
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.