8 Reasons You’re Exhausted, Overwhelmed, and Unproductive

A Simple Diagnostic Checklist to Get Back on Your Feet at Work

I don’t have to go to the doctor very often. But when I do go, I notice they follow the same routine. It only takes a few minutes, but they start by checking my weight, pulse, blood pressure, and other vitals.

The idea is to get a quick read on my overall health. Getting a baseline enables the physician to know what’s going on and make helpful recommendations. The same basic routine can help with workplace stress and burnout.

You’ve probably seen the numbers. Modern workers report being harried, hurried, and just plain tired. One study by the World Health Organization found that workplace stress costs businesses $300 billion—yes, that’s billion with a B—each year.

And it costs us all individually as well, doesn’t it? So what are the vitals we need to check when we’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and unproductive?

From where I sit there are eight workplace vitals we can check to establish a baseline of health.

  1. Sleep: Are you getting enough? Nothing will contribute to stress and kill our productivity like skimping on our sleep, especially habitually. Sleep restores us mentally, emotionally, and physically. When we hit a wall at 2 or 3 p.m., we should check how much sleep we got the night before and consider taking a quick nap.

  2. Diet: Are you eating nutritious foods? If it’s not sleep, for most of us the dreaded afternoon slump is about blood sugar. If we’re eating the right kinds of foods we can keep our energy levels up throughout the day.

  3. Exercise: Are you active? When we’re stressed and pressed for time, we often sacrifice exercise. But that’s a zero sum game. The best way forward is to expand our energy so we can do more with the time we have. Exercise is a key component of that.

  4. Priorities: Are you clear about what matters most? When we’re unclear about our priorities, we expend our energy on pointless tasks. Establishing priorities conserves our energy and frees our time for the kinds of projects that will move the needle in our business.

  5. Commitments: Have you made too many? Being unclear on our priorities usually leads to other problems, including making too many commitments. It’s impossible to make progress on projects that matter when our calendars are stuffed with meetings and tasks that don’t.

  6. Interruptions: Do you have systems to filter distractions? Emails, drop-ins, phone calls, social media—if we don’t have systems to keep all that noise at bay, we can’t focus on what matters. The important work just keeps mounting and that feeling of overwhelm gets harder to shake.

  7. Multitasking: Are you trying to do two or more things at once? We’re at our most productive when we focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking leads us to waste attention and efficiency switching between multiple tasks. It drains our mental resources and slows us down.

  8. Strategies: Are you using strategies that don’t fit your work? Lots of productivity systems don’t really fit the kind of work we do. We use them because a coworker does or we heard they might help us. We end up wasting time and energy trying to support an arbitrary system instead of using strategies that support our work.

If you’re feeling sick, the worst thing to do is just keep moving forward like nothing is wrong. Symptoms are red flags that alert us to trouble so we can fix what’s wrong.

That’s true for work, too. If we’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and underproductive, the worst thing we can do is just keep going. It’s not going to resolve itself.

But if we check our workplace vitals we can see what’s wrong, make adjustments, and get back on our feet.

Question: What do you need to do differently so you can have the energy and focus you need to accomplish your goals?

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