Do you ever pass by a mirror at work and not recognize yourself? Are too many people making demands on your time that aren’t even safety issues—just because you’ve got the reputation as a problem-solver? Do you sometimes feel like your brain is full, with no room for anything else? In short, do you have too much to do and too little time to do it?
If so, then chances are you’re feeling overwhelmed. But the good news, according to Joe Korpi, manager, safety and health at Renewable Energy Group, a producer and supplier of renewable fuels and chemicals, is there’s help for you.
The first step to getting that help is to recognize that sometimes that chaos in your brain is self-inflicted. Korpi spoke in June at the ASSP’s Safety 2019 conference in New Orleans.
One quick way to get a better handle on your daily work responsibilities, he suggests, is to “unchain your brain.” Sit yourself down for a couple minutes, and write down—yes, use pen and paper, not a computer or other electronic device—everything you need to get done that day. That process will help your brain remember and clarify all the tasks you have to undertake, both the important and the trivial, and it’ll help you identify what you most need to get accomplished.
You need to be clear about two things, Korpi says:
• What do you stand for, i.e., what is your purpose—not just as a safety leader but as a person?
• What do you want, i.e., what’s the desired outcome of any given situation? And what will it take to get you there?“Begin with the end in mind,” Korpi suggests. Don’t focus on what you don’t want to happen. Instead, he recommends that you be present in the moment. Having identified what your purpose is (and you may need to remind yourself of that purpose throughout the day), use that purpose to respond to what is most important in the here and now.
Korpi offers these 10 practical steps to taking control of your day:
1. Morning action energy. “Spend the first 30-60 minutes of the day improving your mind and body,” he recommends, whether that be in exercise, prayer, meditation, or some other activity that does NOT involve checking your e-mail or social media accounts.
2. Before you leave your home for work, identify the Most Important Tasks (MITs) for the day, and have a plan for how you’ll accomplish them.
3. Book your mornings. Korpi cites a study that says the natural “peak performance” times for most people is between 8:00-11:00 am. So don’t waste those hours on unimportant activities, even if that means finding a conference room where you can work uninterrupted during those early morning hours.
4. Book meetings after lunch. During those early afternoon hours, when your brain activity is lower, you can “coast” by using other people’s energy in meetings.
5. Schedule e-mail time. The modern work culture would seem to suggest otherwise, but checking e-mail throughout the day is a huge waste of time, particularly as it serves as a constant distraction. Don’t let e-mail derail your momentum.
6. Shut off notifications. Don’t get interrupted by social media alerts, either. You don’t need to know every time somebody “likes” you on Facebook or any other social media.
7. Daily After Action Review. Borrowing a concept used by the military, Korpi suggests you set aside the last 15 minutes of each day to review:
• What was supposed to happen?
• What actually happened?
• Why was there a difference?
Also, identify what went right during the day, what can be improved, and other lessons learned.
8. Set a hard stop. Determine what time you will leave the office… and then stick to it.
9. Have a relaxing evening, and get a good night’s rest (7-8 hours of sleep).
10. Study intentionally. Invest your time in learning how others have successfully overcome that feeling of being overwhelmed.
“You can’t change the complexity of daily life,” Korpi acknowledges, “but you do have the power to choose how you will handle it.”