Boost your resilience: Four strategies to manage your workload at home and at work

boundaries resilience Apr 12, 2022

Last week, a new episode of the Leading Women in Tech podcast was released, called The Importance of Developing Resilience. The episode features a frequent Mindfulness Incubator contributor (and upcoming retreat host), it’s a super fun conversation, check it out!

Today’s blog post recaps and expands on some of the concepts that were discussed. We delve into what resilience means, and share four actionable strategies to help manage your personal and professional obligations. 

Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties

Research suggests that having a sense of purpose improves resilience by helping us reframe challenging circumstances. Resilience can also be supported by good habits: quality rest, good nutrition, regular movement, a contemplative practice like meditation. What supports our overall wellbeing also gives us the energy we need to find perspective in the face of adversity. 


What specific strategies can help to manage personal and professional obligations?

Our last two blog posts focused on improving the quality (and quantity) of breaks, and how retreats can be a longer, more intensive opportunity to recharge. Your recovery has a direct impact on how you withstand periods of high stress. If you’re looking to improve your performance and effectiveness at work, look at how you recover. 

Today’s post builds on these concepts by introducing strategies you can implement to help keep overwhelm at bay through intentional management of your obligations.


1. Understand what responsibilities and obligations are consuming your time

Our days can easily be filled with a never ending carousel of meetings, tasks, to-dos and responsibilities. How did we get this busy? Maybe we volunteered to take things on, often stuff just somehow ended up on our plate until our days became so packed we barely had time to take a breath. So what can we do? 

Noticing is the first step: start by performing a realistic inventory of the breadth of things that are competing for your time and attention.

At home, invisible labor abounds, and women typically perform three out of every four hours of unpaid labor. We love Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play system. “Fair Play outlines a system for how to divide up household tasks fairly, based on your needs.” It allows you to assess all the visible and invisible tasks that are required to make your home life run, and proposes an approach to share those responsibilities in a way that makes sense in your home. Regardless of your family composition, the act of creating an explicit inventory of everything that’s on your plate allows more explicit prioritization. 

A similar approach can be applied to your work life. What are all the different things you’re spending your time on? One way to assess this is by doing a time inventory, where you track how you spend your time over a representative period (say two weeks). Through a time inventory, you will better understand: What’s the composition of meetings, emails, conversations, breaks, project/flow time? For each major block, ask yourself: 

  • What is the problem that this task is trying to solve? 
  • Whose priority is it?
  • How important is it to them? To me?

The goal of this exercise is to understand the variety of things that are competing for your attention. It’s often surprising to realize how much of our time is spent on things that don’t have a clearly defined objective, or that are priorities for everyone except us. 

If you’d like some help in doing a time inventory, we put together this tool you can use to do so


2. Actively engage in your priorities

It’s one thing to understand where your time goes, it’s another to decide where it should go. That’s why understanding and engaging with your priorities is so important (we touched on this a bit in a recent blog post called say yes to say no). 

In your work, what are the top three priorities you’re accountable for? If you’re not sure, ask yourself: When your performance is evaluated, what will be looked at as evidence that you’re delivering on expectations? If you work for yourself, what metrics will you use to evaluate whether you are meeting your goals, or what indicators will you look at as proof that your business is successful?

Now look back at your time inventory and calculate what percentage of your time aligns to those priorities. Where are you spending time, energy, and effort on activities that are ancillary? 

We like the 40-30-20-10 rule that suggests that you should spend

  • 40% of your time on your most important priority
  • 30% on your second priority
  • 20% on your third
  • 10% on everything else combined

How does your time inventory compare? What do you need to do to collapse the objective-less or low priority tasks to 10% or less of your working time?


3. Don’t default to yes

When someone asks us to look at something, jump in on a meeting, send an email, review a presentation, what’s your default reaction? We looooooove to be helpful. Defaulting to yes can be seen as a good business practice, and is a beacon of excellence in customer service cultures. But at what cost? Our workload grows, our meeting load creeps up, the emails keep coming, and we still only have 24 hours in a day.

Rather than immediately saying yes to whatever is thrown your way, learn to default to giving yourself space. You can do this by using one of these pause statements:

  • “Thanks for checking, I’ll need to review my calendar and get back to you”
  • “I’ll need to check if I have the capacity to take that on, I’ll follow up with you by [day]”
  • “I am working towards deadline, so I may not be able to help on this right now, I’ll let you know”
  • “I appreciate you thinking of me, let me consult with my team on who the best person to partner with you on this might be” 
  • “Hey I’m fully committed at the moment, let me think about how to get you the support you need”

Once you’ve bought yourself time, ask yourself:

  • What is the problem this request is trying to solve? Whose priority is it? 
  • Does this support my professional priorities?
  • Does this support my personal objectives?
  • Does this provide an experience/learning/growth that aligns with my goals?
  • Am I excited about this/do I want to do this?

Whether or not you should jump in on something additional isn’t a clear formula, but a general rule of thumb is that you should understand why you are doing it before you proceed. And if you cannot come up with a clear “why” that makes sense to you, maybe it needs to be a no. 

Saying no can be hard, so here are some handy phrases you might use:

  • “I’d love to be able to help, but I’m fully committed on other priorities at the moment”
  • “I unfortunately won’t be available to support/participate/attend at this time”
  • “I’ve connected with my team, and [name] can take point on this from our team”
  • “I won’t be able to get to this until [time]”

If saying no is really hard for you, consider practicing with a friend or colleague until it feels more comfortable. 


4. Contain your work with boundaries

You have 24 hours in a day. You need to spend some of those hours sleeping (ideally more than 7), eating (hopefully without multitasking), managing your home, caring for others like kids or elder parents. You also need to spend some of that time having fun, socializing, learning, creating, and developing yourself. Too often we view these as optional, as things we do only if we have time. They aren’t, they are essential to our wellbeing. 

Do not let your time be completely fungible. Do not fall into the trap that every moment needs to be in service of your professional or domestic responsibilities. 

Create boundaries for the amount of time you are willing to give to your job, and then do your best to stick to them. These limits matter, because knowing that your work time is finite enables you to be more intentional about the priorities you can accomplish within those boundaries. There’s some evidence that working fewer hours yields the same or better results. Of course sometimes stuff happens, and you may occasionally need to push a bit harder, or work longer hours. That too should be an intentional occurrence: with a clear problem to solve, and a “why” that matters to you. 

You do not need to be productive every hour of every day. Rest matters. Treat your time and your recovery like they matter.


 The recap

There are many ways to cultivate greater resilience: taking frequent breaks, maintaining healthy habits, and building our sense of purpose and meaning. 

We can also support our resilience by better managing our time and our responsibilities…

  • …by noticing how we spend our time
  • …by becoming clearer on our priorities
  • …by shifting our default away from saying “yes”
  • …by developing clearer boundaries around the time we spend at work

Remember to snag your step by step guide to doing your own Time Inventory We hope you’ve found this post helpful!

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