Most of us are feeling more burned out than usual (we all can feel that gnawing pessimism and fatigue creeping into the backs of our minds). And not only is that burnout dramatically hurting our mental health, but research has also shown that burnout damages productivity and increases mistakes, which no business can afford right now.
One of the biggest drivers of employee burnout is the feeling that we’re not accomplishing anything at work. The vast majority of us show up ready to work (whether we’re in the office or remote), but there’s a huge difference between logging a lot of hours and actually feeling like we’ve accomplished anything.
More than 20,000 people have taken the online test “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” And the data shows that around two-thirds of people say, “I often leave work wondering ‘did I actually accomplish anything today?’”
Just ask yourself, “how many days in the past week did I feel like I really accomplished something significant?” If you’re like most people (and me), you’ve probably had more than a few days where you thought, “I know I worked hard, but I’m not sure I truly accomplished anything.”
Having that feeling that “I’m not getting anything done lately” is a classic symptom of burnout. When we’re energized and pumped-up, we’re likely to be achieving big goals. But when our emotional reserves are dwindling (aka burned out), it’s nigh impossible to get that deep feeling of accomplishment.
So here’s how you’re going to fix that. Every morning, you’re going to have your employees answer one simple question:
“What are the 1-2 things that I need to achieve today in order for this to be a successful day?”
I know this seems like a ridiculously simple question, but it’s actually imbued with several powerful psychological concepts.
First, we know from the time-management quiz I mentioned above that you’re about 45% more likely to leave work feeling like “today was a really successful day” if you start your day by developing a plan so you know exactly what you need to achieve that day to make it a successful day.
Making this morning commitment is essentially making a conscious promise to yourself that you’re going to accomplish these tasks or goals or whatever they are. And by narrowing your focus to only one or two items, you’re keeping all your emotional energies directed and specific. If, by contrast, you write down your entire to-do list (which could be dozens of items), you’re essentially forcing yourself to commit to achieving the impossible. Faced with the prospect of attempting an impossible goal, we’re all more likely to simply abandon its pursuit. So keeping our list to one or two items is critical.
And let’s be real about this; we all perform activities that are not especially important. Yes, I have to write that TPS report simply because it’s on my to-do list, but is it truly a value-adding activity that’s going to advance my career and leave me with a deep sense of accomplishment? Probably not. So I don’t want to waste my limited emotional energy planning activities that aren’t going to fix my burnout and help me feel fantastic.
A second reason this simple question is so powerful is that it helps stimulate our internal locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe that they control their own success or failure; that success or failure is not the result of chance or fate. By contrast, having an external locus of control would mean that we believe that our success or failure stems from factors outside of our control.
We know from the study Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think, that only 17% of people have a high internal locus of control, while about 29% of people have a more external locus of control. And people with a high internal locus of control are 136% happier with their careers.
When we ask this morning question, we’re essentially creating a list of activities that we believe we can control. After all, if I commit to achieving these one or two activities, and I know that they’re going to lead to my feeling that today was a successful day, I must control whether I succeed or fail at achieving those activities.
As I set and achieve these micro-commitments, I gradually increase my internal locus of control. I made a commitment to myself, and then I did it. And not only did I accomplish the activity, but I also got an emotional reward in the form of feeling like I was successful.
Bit-by-bit, achieving these micro-commitments shows me that I have more control over the world than I previously thought. And that internal locus of control is going to reduce my burnout because, even though my days may be difficult, they’re leading to a fulfilling sense of accomplishment.
July 30, 2020
Mark Murphy Senior Contributor