January 24, 2022

Paying attention to your efficiency trap

Paying attention to your efficiency trap

Is it still OK to say Happy New Year?! I hope you’ve had a fantastic summer break and are feeling pumped for a massive 2022. I know I am.

But as I think about everything I want to achieve this year, I’m increasingly cognisant of that sinking feeling that comes from taking on more than is achievable and squeezing out every last drop of productivity in a day. Sound familiar?

For all the incredible benefits a fully flexible, distributed workforce has given us thanks to this horrid pandemic, it seems we’ve accelerated the efficiency trap. A legit social and cognitive science concept, the efficiency trap refers to our endless desire to get more done and in the process, we take on more (and are given more to do). The end result is the ambient anxiety that comes from never having enough time to reach even close to the bottom of the to-do list.

Because many of us no longer routinely travel to work, move between floors for meetings or get dressed in office gear to be presentable for our clients and colleagues, we’ve created a new expectation of what can be achieved in a day (especially when we’re not homeschooling). We’re doing more, yet still not getting everything done.

As this Making Sense podcast discusses with time management expert, Oliver Burkeman, the truth is efficiency and productivity nirvana doesn’t exist. Sure, there are heaps of great tricks to squeezing more out of your day but that just leads to taking on more, and so the pressure and anxiety continues to creep up.

What to do about it? Like all tricks of the mind, observing our thoughts and emotions is the best way to manage their negative effects. Putting this in the context of being above or below the line is a great start. Here are some self-reflection questions you might like to ponder when you feel yourself in the efficiency trap.

  • Where are you right now – above or below the line? Present and at peace with what is, or triggered and feeling threatened by not getting through the task list?
  • What payoffs do you get from being below the line? How does your ego benefit from taking on more?
  • Can you accept yourself for being below the line on this?
  • What can you do to shift? Do you need to let go of blame, righteousness, drama or gossip?

Based on the work of The Conscious Leadership Group, these are the same questions to ponder each time we’re triggered to bring ourselves back into presence and in turn, find a greater sense of calm and ease. Because that’s the place we do our best work from and bring out the best in others.

For me, I love to manufacture the drama of being busy and taking on more than I can manage. It fuels my ‘Hercules’ persona and makes me feel capable. Except when I inevitably overdo it and start to unravel. So for 2022, I’m paying attention to my efficiency trap and hopefully unravelling a little less often.

Want to work on your relationship with time and your to do list? Let’s talk about how context coaching can change the game. 

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