Posted on Jun 2nd, 2006

In cubicles and corner offices across the land, people are bombarded with so many “urgent” demands that they’re literally not giving their brains time to think. Speeding through the day in a constant state of adrenaline-fueled arousal – answering voice mails, emails, and beepers; checking cell phones and PDAs – isn’t just bad for the nervous system. It lowers productivity, creativity, and innovation.

The growing confusion between being in motion and actually accomplishing something has even led to a new syndrome called Attention Deficit Trait, or ADT. It happens when we try to assimilate too much information too quickly, sending our brains into “overload,” and ourselves into a chronic state of “distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience.”1

A growing body of research shows that thrashing around adversely affects our brain chemistry. In Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman explains that when people are worried, angry, frustrated or under other types of negative stress, the brain goes into “survival mode,” and “…falls back on simple, highly familiar routines and responses and puts aside complex thought, creative insight, and long-term planning. The focus is the urgent present – or the crisis of the day.” 2

Much as people lament the panicked scrambling to get the next task done, most feel powerless to really change their circumstances in a meaningful way. They nod approvingly at common-sense advice about breaking large tasks into small steps, leaving the office early once a week for dinner with the family, and getting enough sleep, but somehow can’t motivate themselves to follow through.

Interestingly, my files are filled cases of clients who significantly improved their work lives, and in a number of instances actually wound up earning more money while working fewer hours. They did it by giving themselves some breathing room and by deciding to change the way they viewed their situations.

When we’re overwhelmed, we tend to think along the lines of how to get more and more done, instead of setting reasonable expectations. One way to reduce tension and stress is to bargain on a deadline (“I can get it done on Tuesday if I get 3 hours of administrative help”). Another is to politely decline extra requests from colleagues (“I’ve love to help, but can’t consider taking on anything else until the 10th”). A third is to re- prioritize as conditions change (“If Project A is critical, I’ll move the deadline for Project B out one week”).

It is also imperative to question beliefs such as, “If I don’t work 10 hour days, I’ll be fired” … “In this economy, I’m lucky to have any job” … “People who don’t work weekends don’t get promoted” and others that make it easy to justify staying stuck. Assumptions influence what we perceive, how we feel, and the actions we take. Again and again I’ve seen magic happen once someone decides to believe that something different is possible.

Ironically, slowing down will enable you to get a lot more done, and to enjoy the process more as well, which alone will set the stage for working smarter.

1 “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform,” by Edward M. Hallowell, Harvard Business Review, January, 2005.

2 Working with Emotional Intelligence, © 1998 by Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books, page 74.

Barbara Bissonnette helps people function more effectively by leveraging their natural strengths and eliminating self-defeating behavior patterns. She is a certified coach and Principal of Forward Motion Coaching. She has more than 20 years of business experience, most recently as Vice President of Marketing and Sales for a privately held firm. For a free copy of her new guide, "The Personality of Business: Manage Your Style for Greater Success," visit

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