Feeling Stressed? Rebalance Your Goals

One way to address overcoming some of the stress that we — and the people we manage — are experiencing is by alleviating the overloaded list of goals we have set. Here are some suggestions on how to get your goals in balance without overfilling your capacity.

My guess is that spring fever will reach epidemic proportions this year. Despite Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, most of us in the northern part of the United States have been enduring unseasonable cold and winter storms well past the spring equinox. Even our neighbors living in the country’s Sun Belt have been enduring colder winter temperatures that have lingered beyond March 20. Now, as I heard a TV newscaster say this morning, it’s suddenly summer on the East Coast.

Despite the temptation to catch an afternoon baseball game or take a long lunch in the park, most of us will starve the fever by chaining ourselves to our desks until well past nightfall. Or worse still, some of us will give in to it, only to find ourselves guiltily buried in our smartphones when we are supposed to be enjoying a well-deserved break.

The nicer weather isn’t the only thing that’s contributing to spring fever this year. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found more than one-third of employees maintain chronic stress levels, with women reporting higher levels of work stress than men. Overall, APA’s most recent “Stress in America” survey indicated that “almost two-thirds (65 percent) of all U.S. adults cited work as a significant source of stress.”

Commenting on the survey, Dr. Norman B. Anderson, APA’s CEO, observed: “This isn’t just an HR or management issue. The well-being of an organization’s workforce is a strategic business imperative that is linked to its performance and success.”

One way to address overcoming some of the stress that we — and the people we manage — are experiencing can be achieved by alleviating the overloaded list of goals we have set.

“The most prevailing problem that I hear about from clients and other friends is their inability to find enough time to get everything done,” explains Jane Moyer, president of the talent development firm New Century Leadership.


Moyer, who was SVP and GM of HBO before starting her leadership consulting firm, points out that “Most [of her clients and friends] have increasing demands at work, but they long for better life balance. They know they need to take on new challenges and activities to progress, yet most feel stretched to keep up with their current demands.”

To illustrate the importance of alleviating an overloaded list of goals, Moyer suggests filling a glass with water and then trying to add to it. My mother would say it’s like trying to put 10 pounds in a five pound bag.

While there are certainly some approaches for improving time management or learning how to perform certain tasks more efficiently in order to squeeze more into our containers, my engineering friends would remind me that the process isn’t all that different from compressing video or music files. There is going to be a point where quality suffers if we try to overdo it.

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Moyer outlines some ways to get our goals in balance without overfilling our capacity in an article appearing in the March-April issue of The Financial Manager (TFM), MFM’s member magazine.

I’d like to share a few of her recommendations that I found particularly helpful:

Consider these questions concerning your current goals before adding new ones:

  • What old goals or strategies are no longer relevant?
  • What goals or activities on your list are really not very important to you?
  • Which activities or strategies don’t make a difference?
  • Which old habits no longer serve you well?
  • What do you no longer use or need that’s taking up physical or mental space?

She suggests these ways to make more room for the new:

  • Whittle down your goals. “Include just a few very clear and important ones,” Moyer recommends, adding that we should write them down and keep them visible. “Then design your daily activities around moving forward to accomplish them.” This doesn’t mean she suggests disregarding the remaining goals. We can add to the short list later, once we’ve created capacity for accomplishing them.
  • Don’t do what doesn’t matter. Moyer recommends looking for goals or activities we have taken on solely because others have suggested them or we feel we “should” do them. “Consider how committed you are to your goals and activities and consider the possibility of dropping the ones that aren’t really that important to you or your success.”
  • Give yourself permission. Don’t do things that don’t make a difference. I love her example: “My homemade piecrust wasn’t really any better than the kind available in the dairy case.”
  • Examine your assumptions. She also points out that we may be holding on to activities that may no longer be as important as they once were. One example may be the time we spend developing periodic reports. “With information now so broadly available and electronic communication so fast, it might be possible to cut down on producing, sending and filing reports and other materials. Or a new boss may have different needs and priorities.”
  • Update your habits. Another strategy for making room for newer and more important activities is to examine our routines. There are all kinds of activities that worked well at a certain time but are no longer effective, things we did before we were managers, before we had children and the like. There may also be activities that pre-date our access to laptops and smartphones that we can now streamline using technology. Think about saving time though auto bill paying, scheduling virtual meetings and utilizing productivity apps.
  • Shift responsibilities. Moyer also encourages identifying activities that we can let someone else take on, particularly if they are things we don’t enjoy or don’t do well. “They might do it better, faster or cheaper — and actually be glad to do it!” she suggests. In some instances, it may even make sense to hire help, negotiate a change in responsibilities or trade services, especially if letting them go allows us to focus on more profitable tasks.
  • Make room physically. “Having less stuff and paper means you can find things better.” In addition to cutting down on the time and energy needed to keep track of these materials, we’ll be making room for more relevant information.
  • Make room mentally. There is also an emotional component to letting go of certain things. “Honor what you’ve achieved during the last year,” Moyer advises. “Before you add on new goals (or carry over old ones), increase your chances of meeting them by making room in your thinking, your schedule and your space.”
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The full text of Moyer’s article, entitled “When Your Cup Spills Over” is currently available online. Moyer will share some additional advice on this topic in the final Webinar of a three-part leadership training series that she has been hosting over the past three months. Entitled “Effective Delegation,” the MFM Distance Learning Seminar will be held next Tuesday, April 16, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET. Registered participants will be eligible to receive 1.0 CPE (Continuing Professional Education) credit. More information may be found on MFM’s website.

Leadership development is also at the heart of Media Finance Focus 2013, the industry’s primary source of professional education for financial and business executives. The 53rd annual conference for MFM and BCCA will be held in New Orleans May 20-22. With presentations from more than 150 industry experts and a theme of “Unmasking Secrets to Success,” it will help attendees to meet Moyer’s recommendation of acquiring knowledge and skills for performing the functions that matter most to the profitability our companies.

Now that should help to relieve some of the stress you may be feeling this spring. And New Orleans in May, what better antidote to spring fever? I hope to see you there.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]Her column appears inTVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.

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