“She’s gonna blow!” It is a phrase they shout in action films, just before the pressure gets too great, and whatever ‘she’ happens to be erupts in a spectacular ball of flame. Hopefully, this is not a phrase you hear shouted too often around the office.
Yet maybe it should be. You see, none of us come equipped with a pressure gauge on our foreheads, so it can be hard to tell when the needle on a co-worker’s workload dial is edging its way into the red zone. However, the results can be equally spectacular – and unpleasant – when the pressure gets too great for any one of us.
It is a safety requirement for modern boilers to have a release valve which, if the pressure exceeds safe levels, jettisons hot water out of the main chamber so that the boiler doesn’t explode. Human beings have a similar mechanism. Many of us just don’t know it is there.
You see, much of the pressure in our day-to-day lives comes from our commitments. Everything in our life we have committed to do we have either actively pursued, or passively accepted. Either way – we are the gatekeeper of everything in our lives that we are currently expected to do.
Don’t believe me? Think how fast people renegotiate their work commitments when a personal crisis hits. When something really major happens in life, it can bring instant perspective to just how expendable so many seemingly important matters really are. Likewise, most people delegate or defer a wide range of work commitments – from tasks to meetings – to make way for their annual leave.
So, if you accept that most things in your life – if push really came to shove – are actually negotiable, you are well on your way to finding that great safety release valve for modern living. It’s called ‘renegotiation’, and it is fundamentally different than just blowing something off.
The way I tell the difference is that I often feel just as good about consciously and considerately renegotiating a commitment as I do about completing a task. This is because renegotiating what isn’t going to work for me is really a redirection of energy into those things that will work better. Saying, “No, I changed my mind” is saying, “Yes!” to everything else.
The best way to ensure that you are playing the game of renegotiation fairly is to keep a complete, current inventory of both everything you are committed to doing (projects and next actions) and all those good ideas that you are definitely not committed to doing, but don’t want to lose (what we call the ‘someday/maybe’ list).
If you have been seeing red lately, and colleagues have noticed a bit of steam coming out of your ears, there are a few things you can do to get relief. First, if you are not keeping an up-to-date list of ‘committed’ and ‘not’; get one, and fast. This alone will draw off some pressure.
Next, have a hard look at your active commitments, and ask yourself what it will take to renegotiate a few. You may just need to change the agreement with yourself, or you may need to inform others or have a conversation with colleagues or a manager. Get that recorded as the very next step in your trusted GTD system. Just knowing you will take action to lighten the load can, in itself, lighten the load a bit.
Finally, for ongoing pressure regulation, take time each week to conduct a review of your trusted system. Keeping up with what you’ve said you would do (and not do) is a key to keeping your own workload dial comfortably and consistently in the green zone.
There is a release valve for the overwhelm that comes from being overcommitted. Find it, and use it (before it’s too late).