“Your stress levels climbing? Taking too much on? Unfinished work piling up? The Heat is on. The Way Out Is Through…”

Our management team just concluded a productive 1 1/2 day offsite.  After catching our breath, the magnitude of the work load had come much clear in focus.  And low and behold, sitting in my email box this morning was David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” essay.  Coincidence? Deepak Sharma would say not.  Allen is a best selling author, a leading executive coach and time management and productivity consultant.  In his essay this month, he talks about the increasing stress levels that he is seeing in organizations and what to do about the “drag of unfinished work and commitments on your psyche.”   Here’s a number of excerpts from his essay…he’s on point (again).

Defining what you are not doing is as important as knowing what you are doing for stress-free productivity.  Having things you’ve told yourself to do (implicit agreements with yourself), still undone, can be deadly to your confidence and energy if they are not appropriately managed by constant renegotiation with yourself

The heat is on. I’ve been noticing that the stress factor at senior levels in organizations is increasing. My coaching has uncovered an increasing number of agreements that are real, but largely not consciously acknowledged or kept. We’re giving ourselves so much to do, and we’re taking on so much of what we expect others are expecting of us, that it would be virtually impossible to do even a portion of what’s on our plates

Most of you reading this don’t even have time to finish to perfection your current set of projects, even if you stopped the world from giving you anything new…

It’s strange, but I work with people to define the work they are not doing. Unfortunately the resulting ambiguity of just halfway assuming responsibilities and commitments with ourselves and others, or just halfway clarifying and understanding what they mean and what needs to be done about them, won’t cut the pressure in half—it doubles it! So much of what people are feeling these days is the pressure to get things done, but there is universal resistance to defining precisely what that commitment and that work is. We have to really focus and think (which requires energy often in short supply) to clarify and define the outcomes and actions needed, on each and every thing that we might need or want to do

You can only do one thing at a time, so at any point in time there is going to be a huge backlog of “work.” Much of what we must do, to gain comfort and control in our knowledge-worker worlds these days, is clarifying what all that work is, objectively, in a format that provides an easy overview. We must continually renegotiate those commitments with ourselves and with others; and that’s impossible to do, unless they’re captured, clarified, and organized in some systematic way outside our psyche.

There’s an old Gestalt theorem—the way out is through. Defining what we could do, and what we are doing right now instead—managing the triage strategically with ourselves and others, is a key component of managing ourselves and our workflow these days. You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing. We have to loosen the grip of unclear agreements with ourselves to be free to follow our intuitive hunches and creative focus.

There is no catching up. There is only catching on.

Q: How can I avoid feeling stressed and frustrated?

A: Clarify what your desired outcome is, what the next action required to move it forward is (and who’s going to do it); and evaluate those commitments consistently within your total context of commitments about work and life. 

Source: David Allen, Getting Things Done, Getting More Out of Life, November 2, 2011.  Image: Powerstates.com


  1. I agree with most of what you’re saying. I just posted something
    similar to what you’re talking about on my blog.

    Here’s part of what I said…

    Those tasked with making the decision often weight the options by considering the cost of outsourcing versus the speed at which the problem would be resolved in both cases. If there is an expert readily available to tackle the problem it will likely be resolved relatively quickly. However, if in-house employees are currently overburdened, they may not be able to make this problem a priority.

    If you want to check out the full context and leave a comment
    you can check out the full post here…


    Talk to you later,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: