Before you even think about the question, I know the answer for most people is a resounding 'yes'. I see this every day in my job as a performance coach and consultant to companies helping them improve productivity and wellbeing.
The average knowledge worker spends way too much time on email, combined with ineffective back-to-back meetings and multiple distractions. The only time you get the opportunity to think, strategise or plan is early morning, late at night or on the weekend.
It has become a global problem. The 2014 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Study surveyed more than 2500 companies in 90 countries and highlighted that businesses around the globe are struggling to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce.
The Deloitte study uncovered the challenge of “the overwhelmed employee” – dealing with the flood of information including email, meetings, text messages, conference calls and distractions.
People now check their mobile phones almost 150 times a day, leading to increased distraction, stress and big decreases in productivity. Today's workers can only focus for seven minutes at a time before toggling to another task or screen.
The survey found more than 67 per cent of business leaders agree employees are overwhelmed and not dealing with technology in their lives, yet only 4 per cent believe their company has invested in programs to help employees manage the data deluge that hits them every single day.
In my role over the past three years working with executives and senior managers at The Performance Clinic, our data shows us the average employee:
• gets less than four hours of quality sleep per night (assessed using heart rate variability)
• spends 25 per cent of the week in unnecessary meetings, answering non-urgent emails and dealing with distractions
• is dominated by stress (sympathetic nervous system) for at least 12 hours of the day
• is only half-way to achieving work-life balance; and
• is constantly connected to work and unable to switch off at night.
But you don't need a study from Deloitte, or data from The Performance Clinic to make this point - think about your day so far. And for many people I bet it looks a little like this:
Sit at workstation and check email (after already doing email over breakfast or on the way into work), at the same time opening up smh.com.au to get a quick news fix. “I wonder how Jonesy's UK holiday is going?” so open up Facebook and check. Status update: 'only 15 minutes into the working day and already massively distracted'. Big yawn, tired, need another coffee. Bing, check the email that just arrived, jump over to Twitter and see what's happening. Bing, another email. Print document with agenda for upcoming meeting. Respond to text message. Answer the phone, your manager wants you to update them on yesterday afternoon's client meeting. Check Shazam to see song you tagged in coffee shop this morning and go to iTunes and download Tsunami (Jump). Check phone for text messages. Bing, another email. Meeting started five minutes ago so get out of chair and head to meeting room. Bing …
To me it's blatantly obvious – the way we're working isn't working. Especially when it comes to productivity and sustainability. If you're still not convinced, have a look at your job description and what does it say? I'm sure it doesn't state anything about checking email from the start of the day until you go to bed, or sitting in back-to-back meetings and distracting fellow workers as much as you can throughout the day. I bet it also doesn't say to work late at night to finish your “real job”.
And while business leaders and companies have a responsibility to provide employees with support and training around managing workload (effectively giving them permission to work smarter), there are a number of things you can do to start taking control back.
1. Plan your day
Identify the really important things that need to be achieved today. I know this sounds simple, but so many people have no plan and they get sucked up into other people's plans all day, all week, all month and all year. Spend 5 to 10 minutes mapping out your day and evaluate a few times during the day.
2. Clarify priorities with your manager
Don't assume your manager knows how overloaded you are. When you are overwhelmed, it is hard to sort out what is important and what is not. The discipline of sitting down with your manager on a regular basis and reviewing workload helps to focus on what really matters and keeps communication open.
3. Hour of Power
Get off the grid and turn off your pop-up alert, switch off the internet and focus on doing one thing at a time. Write that report. Finish that proposal. Do that analysis. Even if you work in the craziest of reactive environments, try and work like this for 60 minutes a day and watch your output soar.
4. Say no
You are not employed solely to say yes to every request or demand that comes your way. Learn to say no and stop filling your day with low-level activities, stop majoring in minors. Be realistic in managing expectations with others and set boundaries.
5. Start early
To get on top of excess workload, start work a few hours early for one or two days (night owls are best to stay back a few hours). But make sure you don't make this a constant habit. Don't confuse productivity with hours worked. Productivity is hours worked doing the right things.
(Main source: Are You an Overwhelmed Employee? New Research Says Yes. Josh Bersin, Deloitte, 2014).
Are you overwhelmed at work? What tools do you use to get back on the right track?