What to do when you have too much to do

Rush, rush, rush. Busy, busy, busy. But being busy isn’t the point. Moving towards your goals and living your values is the point. And how do you attain that sought-after but often elusive state of affairs?

First, you need to know what you value most. Straight away, that tells you what activities to tackle–those that are in line with your values, and what activities to drop–those that don’t mesh with your values.

Then you need to know your goals. You know what your work goals are (and if you don’t–better get reading Chapter 11!). But what do you want to achieve in other areas of your life? For instance, as a parent, partner, friend and community member? What do you aspire to regarding your mental and physical health? Concentrating your efforts on only one or two areas of your life makes you lop-sided while being a well-rounded person helps you achieve more in each area of your life.

Once you know what you value most and what you want to achieve in various areas of your life, you’re in a position to concentrate on matters that move you closer to your goals. You can resist taking on a task simply because ‘it’s there’; you can resist doing something purely out of habit; you can resist taking on a task just because someone asks you to do it. You can resist because you can recognise activities that don’t add any value, that don’t move you any closer to your goals.

Then you can try to work on at least one value-adding activity in each facet of your life every day. When demands on your time crop up, you can evaluate them based on your values and goals and choose to do those that move you one step closer to a goal. You can delegate other matters or put them on your calendar to do when it suits you best. You’re in charge.

Break down value-adding activities into smaller, more do-able chunks when you need to. You may not become the perfect parent or an admired manager overnight, but you can do something that moves you towards those goals every day. With consistency comes progress.

That’s how to keep on the move and keep moving in the right direction. That’s how not to be busy, busy, busy but meandering through life with no real purpose.

Mindsets and success

Your beliefs become your thoughts;
your thoughts become your words;
your words become your actions;
your actions become your habits;
your habits become your values;
your values become your destiny.
                                                                                                                 Mahatma Gandhi

We now have a large body of research that demonstrates the truth of Gandhi’s words. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in her new book Mindset: The new Psychology of Successdescribes some of her own research that shows how our beliefs about ourselves fuel our behaviour and predict our success. Her research on this topic with both children and adults covers 20 years. She’s found one mindset in particular that is critically important. Which best describes your beliefs about yourself:

  • My personality, character, intelligence and other important traits are fixed–I’ve got what I was born with and that’s it.or
  • I can keep learning and growing and changing and improving.

Dweck calls the first a fixed mindset and the second a growth mindset. When you have a fixed mindset, you end up not challenging yourself but putting your efforts into ensuring your beliefs about yourself are proven correct. The growth mindset takes effort too, but your efforts go into learning and improving, instead of protecting yourself and your beliefs. When you have a growth mindset, success or failure at a specific task isn’t what matters. What matters is challenging yourself and learning and improving all the time.

And these mindsets begin at a very early age. Throughout your life, they guide your behaviour and how you view success and failure, both at work and in your personal life. Ultimately, they determine how satisfied you can feel with yourself.

In one experiment, for example, Dweck and her team gave four-year olds an easy puzzle to complete. Then they let the children choose another easy puzzle or a harder puzzle. Some children chose another easy puzzle (guaranteed ‘success’) while others chose the harder puzzle (guaranteed ‘challenge’ and ‘learning’). The latter is the growth mindset: ‘Why do another easy puzzle? I’ll try a harder one and see whether I can do it.’

In another experiment, teenagers were given a nonverbal IQ test; most did quite well. Half were praised for their performance: ‘Wow, you got X many right; that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.’ The other half were praised for their effort: ‘Wow, you got X many right; that’s a really good score, You must have worked really hard.’

Praise for performance pushed the teenagers into a fixed mindset while praise for effort pushed the others into a growth mindset. Sure enough, when offered a new task to do, the fixed mindset teenagers rejected the challenging one–they had been told they were smart and they didn’t want to spoil it. In contract, 90% of the teenagers who were praised for their effort chose the challenging new task they could learn from.

Next came a series of more difficult IQ tests; most didn’t do so well. Suddenly, the fixed mindset teenagers thought they’d failed and weren’t so smart after all. But those who had been praised for their effort saw the fact that they hadn’t done so well as a signal to put in more effort, not a sign of failure or stupidity.

As the tests progressively became more difficult, the performance of the growth mindset teenagers improved significantly and they continued to enjoy themselves and the challenge. The performance of the fixed mindset teenagers grew worse and worse, and so did their enjoyment of the experience.

When the researchers asked the teenagers to write letters to their friends telling them about their day and their scores, 40% of the fixed mindset teenagers lied about their scores, increasing them so they’d look more successful than they were. When you have a fixed mindset, failure is shameful. When you have a growth mindset, failure is not trying and not learning–as long as you’re trying and learning, you’re succeeding.

In an experiment with adults, Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset only heard feedback about whether they got their task right or wrong and tuned out any information aimed at helping them learn and improve. The adults with the growth mindset, on the other hand, weren’t as focussed on whether they got their task right or wrong but they really sat up and took notice of information that could help them learn and improve so that they could do better next time.

Fixed mindsets are binary: right or wrong, good or bad, success or failure. They’re lose-win. Growth mindsets are open-ended: am I learning? How can I keep learning and improving. That’s win-win.

So which is your mindset? To change a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, change your thinking. That changes your actions and your actions become your destiny.

How to make your office safer

It’s easy to gloss over health and safety risks in the pleasant surroundings of a nice, clean, tidy, well lit, air conditioned office. Yet they’re there. Faulty wiring and untidy electric cords and cables, poor posture at the desk or computer, too much sitting, workplace violence, poorly ventilated equipment rooms, slippery floors around the water cooler or in the kitchen area, chemicals stored insecurely or unsafely in the toilet area, unstable shelving, overloaded filing cabinets and drawers left open obstructing passageways, poorly sterilised or unsterilised telephone handsets and ear pads… It’s scary when you think about it, especially when you’re the leader-manager responsible for a group of people working among all those hazards.

In New Zealand, offices have emergency kits in case of earthquakes and every employee has a small emergency kit in a desk drawer (or at least they’re supposed to and do when the team leader develops a strong safety culture). What about in your office? You may not be in an earthquake zone, but what about a power failure or blackout, a storm, or a siege by an unstable person, as occurred in Martin Place on 15th December 2014, or any number of other emergency situations? Here are some items to think about including in a duffle bag or backpack for your emergency kit (which of course, you will keep handy in case of need):

  • battery operated radio
  • first aid kit
  • lighting (flashlight, glow sticks)
  • list of emergency numbers and other important information
  • water and non-perishable food

What emergency protocols does your work team have in place when employees are unable to attend work due to, say, a ‘flu epidemic, a transport crisis, or a lockdown of the area your office is located in?  When did you last review them together? Have you had a dry run to make sure you’ve covered everything?

Is your fire extinguisher in good working order and readily accessible? When did you last hold a fire drill and conduct a hazard audit? When did you last analyse your accident and incident statistics? When did you last review the health and safety and other risks in your workplace and check that mitigation measures are effective and up-to-date? Have you diarised to take these actions regularly?

Do you have a list of items that require periodic inspections with columns showing serial number, location, date of last inspection, result, inspection notes, and date of next inspection? Include office equipment as well as first aid kits and fire extinguishers on your list.

How do you prevent the spread of infections among your work team? Does your cleaner sterilise door handles, drawer pulls, lift buttons–anything that receives multiple uses by multiple hands? Do you provide antibacterial wipes so employees can keep their workstations hygienic? Is everyone aware of the importance of hand washing, and not just after using the toilet or before and after eating? Have you discussed how to wash hands properly? (Hands spread 80% of common infectious diseases.) Check out this OH&S blog for more information on ensuring proper hand hygiene.

How strong is your workplace and work team’s safety culture? (The answer is, probably only as strong as your own attitude towards safety.)


Most drivers have woken up to the extreme dangers of distracted driving, particularly from mobile devices. The other day on the radio I heard about an ‘All-American’ teenager, Reggie Shaw, who killed two rocket scientists and a truck driver by veering onto the wrong side of the road while texting. He was sent to prison and is now an active campaigner against ‘distracted driving’.

And what about ‘distracted working’? Most of us have a smartphone at hand to check in with friends, check our calendars, check the latest news, check the weather, check out my latest blog… (OK, well, maybe not that last one quite so regularly.) But still, all this checking and texting is often done while at work. While checking and texting when sitting at a desk may only impinge on productivity, it can be as hazardous as checking and texting while driving in other work situations–filling your vehicle with petrol, working with dangerous chemicals or operating heavy or motorised equipment or power tools, for instance, or monitoring people’s safety during sport or recreation, such as while on lifeguard duty.

A recent OHS blog reviews how to develop policies regarding such technological distractions. At the very least, as a leader-manager, you should ensure your team knows when it is ok to check and text and when it isn’t. Is it OK, for instance, to check or text while walking down the corridor? While walking through the production area or through the warehouse? During a meeting? While on the phone with a client or supplier? Does your workplace need a ‘phone zone’ inside which it’s safe to check and text and outside which it isn’t?

Food for thought, eh?