Report on the “Workload Overload” business matters lunchtime talk given by Andrew Milligan of Standard Life Investments on 5 March 2014.
business matters is very grateful to Anderson Strathern who hosted the event and provided a buffet lunch for those attending.
Early in his talk Andrew used the phrase “I am a busy man” and this was borne out by the wide range of activities he explained he was involved in. His talk was engaging, interesting and accessible in its content and delivery and it is well worth taking the twenty minutes or so required to listen to it as it was packed with examples which most of us would recognise from our own world of work. You can do so by using the icon at the foot of the page.
In attempting to summarise the content of the talk, Andrew suggested that a list of key factors, with things to do and things not to do, should be drawn up. This is shown below.
As he started to examine the topic, Andrew posed a key question:
Why do I, why do you, face work overload? – is our workload voluntary (self-sought) or involuntary (demands imposed by our manager, our job, the health of the company we work for)? Decide which!
The following “Key Factors” will help in considering the whole issue of workload overload
1. The time of your life matters
Your age and stage. When we have young children and other commitments we are less free to take on work than, perhaps, later in our life. The availability of support from others, say our team at work, is also a factor in limiting us or, conversely, freeing us to take on more.
You need to decide on what is important at your time of life.
Living and working in Edinburgh is quite different than doing so in London – for example, there is an ability to travel around relatively much faster.
Think about what you hope to do in the context of where you are living and see if the two are congruent.
Andrew quoted from Isaac Newton – “If I have touched the stars it is because I am standing on the shoulders of others”.
At work, recruit the most talented people you can for your team, build that team up and delegate wherever possible – the team will help you “touch the stars” while you are not overwhelmed with workload.
4. Timetabling and organisation
Andrew admitted to being a highly organised person. Planning, scheduling, diary management and “time shifting” are all things he practises rigorously. For example he will take the sleeper to London rather than fly so that he has a full day and evening at his destination for work.
Plan ahead in your diary and be prepared to say “no” when unrealistic short-term demands are made.
Plan your day first thing in the morning, prioritise your tasks and tackle them in order.
Set aside time without the PC for thinking and reading (again perhaps using “time shifting”).
Manage your time and take control.
The intense flow of information that we are subjected to, our ability to control this flow, our ability to assimilate, filter and prioritise this information, all impinge on how we cope – or threaten to overload us.
Plan time away from the PC/Blackberry.
Set up rules to filter emails and divert them for later attention/reference as appropriate.
Consider taking a speed-reading course to facilitate information gathering quickly.
“generally the bane of our lives”
Make sure that any meetings you run are run well and to time.
Delegate attendance at meetings to others if appropriate.
Make use of technology such as Skype / video conferencing if appropriate.
7. Remember life is a marathon, not a sprint.
“You overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year” – think in the longer term.
Cultivate an attitude to life which allows you to function well in the long term.
Physical – good nutrition (out with the biscuits and in with the fruit), regular exercise, even a small amount
Sleep – vital (establish a good pattern/routine, don’t stimulate your brain too late in the evening e.g. by playing video games)
Mental – thinking positively, developing patience, appreciating those around you (flowers and sunsets matter – enjoy them)
Spiritual – this is meaningful to many (prayer, meditation, putting life into context, step back and get perspective) – just as important as physical and mental health
Establish a holistic balance between physical, mental and spiritual health which enables you to deal with life’s pressures.
9. Put life into context
Children keep your feet firmly on the ground – enjoy that experience if you have them.
Make time for your family (children’s activities/school plays etc.) and adapt your working to allow you to be there (e.g. if necessary, bring work home to do after they are in bed for instance).
Take up a hobby – one you can be passionate about, one that is relaxing and diverting and takes you completely away from the world of work. Andrew’s example was croquet!
Recognise that work is only a part of your overall life balance.
A few final pointers:
- Draw up an audit of where you are in life e.g. relationships, work, problems. Draw up your objectives for the short and long term.
- Change your lifestyle one step at a time, build up new rituals, don’t try to do too much at once.
- Get a buddy, a partner, your spouse to hold you to the tasks and to encourage you.
- Recognise the signs of stress as they apply to you, or others around you, and don’t hesitate to get support if you need it.
Andrew then took questions from the audience (listen by using the icon below) which ranged over topics including:
- How to cope with international travel
- How you deal with the unannounced, unexpected tasks which crop up at no notice
- How to handle pressures early in your career if you want to get ahead and develop rapidly
- How to interact with the wide range of social media (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) which demand your attention and involvement
- How to help others who you see may be struggling with this topic
Those present gave a very warm vote of thanks to Andrew for his talk and sharing of his insights.
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