How to Stay Balanced and Productive

Third, you lose touch with your intelligence and abilities. One woman, a competent human resources administrator, consistently met feedback by digging in her heels and refusing to listen. Her reaction was, “I don’t let anyone mess with my career.” Yet, when asked how long she would need to find a similar job, she replied, “One phone call.” She viewed any feedback as a threat to her survival and lost touch with her own competence.

In the work environment, you tend to be drawn to and placed in roles where your reactive tendencies serve the interests of the organization, regardless of their effect on you and those around you. Some people react to challenges by working through to do lists, others by connecting and relating to people, others by analyzing and planning, and others by trying to take control.

At first you feel comfortable because what you are doing comes easily to you, but as time goes on, problems may arise. In an environment of reward and punishment and ever-present fears of loss of job, control, or identity, you rely more and more on that one way of working. You go around hammering everything into place, or connecting with everyone and everything, or analyzing everything, or trying to control everything. Your work life narrows, losing its challenge, richness, meaning, and mystery. Inevitably, compensating behaviors set in (substance abuse, workaholism, obsession with money or status, lack of attention to family and personal life) and develop into stress-related illnesses (physical and emotional depletion, digestive disorders, ulcers, compromised immune system, etc.).

How do you step out of this self-reinforcing cycle, short of not working? The key is to make a balanced effort in your work life and not rely on just one way of to meet all situations. To see the forest, you have to step back from the trees and look with different eyes.

Start to explore how you approach your work, how much time you spend in each of the four ways of working:

  • doing or making sure things just get done, working through task lists, setting frameworks, defining what is expected, managing projects
  • relating to people, building relationships, listening to problems, catching up on what others are doing and letting them know what you are doing
  • exploring, analyzing, looking at how things work, looking for deeper relationships between systems, looking at who or what is dependent on your work and who and what your work is dependent on
  • leading, creating the conditions for others to be able to work effectively, providing direction, order, and protection, motivating and inspiring people to negotiate changes in their work.

Estimate how much time you spend in each of four areas listed above. Then estimate how much time you should be spending in each area to do your job properly. The comparison reveals where your habituated tendencies have been reinforced by your work environment and are pulling you out of balance. Now you know where to start.

As your priorities change, you will spend time in areas you neglected and shift responsibility for things you used to do to others. People around you will react in different ways: those for whom your old ways were convenient will resist the changes, while others will welcome them. You will, inevitably, see more clearly how your work environment systemically reinforces reactivity in you and in others. You will have to meet the challenge of not being run by either internal or external systems. And, in meeting this challenge, you may well see a bigger forest, coming to new understandings about what is truly meaningful to you in your work and in your life.

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