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Staying Afloat

In Rough Seas

The company Petra works for is in the height of its busy season. A mountain of to-dos, changing policies, new employees, and building renovations (really - all at the same time?) are rocking Petra’s boat, and she’s bound to go overboard. Then what? Will she be able to manage it all, and still keep her sanity? Can she stay afloat? 

While this example is kind of exaggerated (or maybe not), our work and lives can feel like this sometimes! But rather than giving up and accepting defeat, there are ways to combat this drowning feeling. Let’s take a look at a few survival tips, and how Petra uses them to stay afloat.


1. Hydrate

It’s as simple as that! Staying hydrated not only helps us feel better, it also allows pauses. A tip I’ve given for handling difficult conversations and tough moments, is to pause to take a drink before you respond. This allows a little extra time to cool off or think of an answer. You can use the same strategy here! Pause to hydrate, and give yourself time for composure and critical thinking. 

Petra’s day was so jam-packed she barely had time to use the restroom, let alone heading to the cafeteria or a vending machine for food or beverage. She knew she was dehydrated by the end of the day, and was noticing the toll it was taking on her mind and body. Petra decided to bring a large water bottle to work that could sit on her desk, and be there when she needed to pause. 

She became generous, giving herself more and more chances pause, to lean back and take a drink - letting everything go calm, even for just 30 seconds. Those 30 second breaks became precious, because Petra recognized the benefits they were giving her. Her eyes didn’t feel so sluggish, she no longer clipped her words upon feeling a dry mouth, and her mind felt clearer and sharper. 


2. Prioritize the people

If you can’t prioritize the work, try prioritizing your audience or stakeholders. First and foremost, take care of your people - and this can take many forms! Maybe remembering the people you’re doing this work for will motivate or inspire you to keep going. Perhaps focusing on the people helps you rank your tasks by importance or relevance - what matters to them? 

All the work that Petra was doing felt so important - it’s the work that keeps the business running, but it usually takes place in the background. She understands the necessity of the work, but it’s hard to prioritize when she knows it all needs to get done as soon as possible. How can she do it all? 

Petra shifted her focus - it’s not about the work she’s doing, it’s about the people she’s doing the work for. Whether that’s the coworker whose work depends on hers being done, or without her work the business would no longer be legally sound, or the requests that come directly from a superior. Once Petra shifted her focus to the people - who her work comes from or impacts - she was able to rank by importance more easily. 


3. Consider the contingency 

It can be hard to keep yourself above the waves if you don’t plan for them. Waves can easily take you by surprise. So, take 5 minutes to think through your week - start with what you are doing. Then, consider what could happen - what could go wrong? Now, you can come up with a backup plan for your week, in case of emergency. 

Petra was taken by surprise when a technology fluke interrupted her in the middle of a task. She had to cancel what she was running, get tech support involved, and wait for their fix before she could continue. She hadn’t thought about a backup plan - something she could do instead, in case something prevented her from completing the work she had aimed to do then.

The next day, Petra took 5 minutes to map out her tasks for the rest of the week. She compiled them all into a schedule, and planned the backup route she would take in case something went wrong. This prevented any further setbacks caused by trying to decide what to do, and she felt at ease, knowing a bump in the road wouldn’t hinder her for long. 


4. Hone in on the horizon

Focus on the horizon! Sometimes it feels like you might drown, and maybe you have to put up with it short term, for some sort of gain. Then you may start asking yourself: How long will this last? Is it worth it? I’ve long believed that any of us can put up with any number of things if we know for how long - if we can see the horizon.

While times are crazy now, Petra knows there is a finish line. Although construction seems up in the air, the company releases statements saying they're hopeful it’ll all be done in a couple of months. The new policies the company is facing will be learned and become the new normal. The recently hired will grow into their positions, learn their way, and become the extra set of hands the rest of them need. 

With all of these slowing down, Petra can certainly focus on reducing her to-do list. The mountain will gradually shrink to a hill, a mound - and become reasonable to tackle. Petra knows she won’t be treading deep waters for very long - it will get better - and for now she can be satisfied with having the horizon in sight. 


5. Believe in balance

Balance is good - we all need it! We all need those tough weeks to be balanced by light weeks. We can’t be “on” 24/7. You know the saying “Work hard, play hard.” You can be very hardworking and still live an enjoyable life outside of work. Because here’s another phrase you’ve maybe heard before: “You are not your job.” Remember to find a balance - and protect it! 

For too long, Petra had let her job run her life. She was working too many hours and giving up weekends in an attempt to stay on top of things. No wonder she wasn’t happy! Petra wasn’t able to enjoy her time outside of work - she no longer had the energy to do the things she loved, or to spend time with those important to her. 

Once she established boundaries - actually signing off for the weekends, and really calling it quits in the evenings - her mood lifted. Her personal life had improved, and in turn, her work life too. Petra felt energized when she came into work, rather than dragging herself to her desk. Being burnt out helps no one. Protect your “off” time, so you can provide more effective “on” time. 


6. Tighten your turn

Sometimes we have to turn on a dime - technology changes, customers change, needs change - it’s a reality. So, be prepared and get ready for it. Be observant, be on the lookout for changes. Do your research, find out what change may be coming your way. Be receptive to the change, and try not to hold on too tightly to what you used to know. 

Petra had had her eyes and ears tuned in to notice pain points, and found she could predict the changes that may occur as a result. For instance, her coworkers had been discussing the outdated appliances in the break room kitchen and the issues they had when using them - a month later renovations began. 

After workplace dynamics shifted to be more work from home, Petra noticed more and more desks being left empty. She knew people would have to come in to fill those spots - and interviews started soon after. Although these changes threw a few wrenches Petra’s way, she knows improvement is the goal, and that’s something she can get behind. 


7. Improve your bounce

Resilience - let’s get better at this. Resilience is your ability to bounce back, to get back up after you’ve been knocked down. A disruption happens, you process and feel it, you think about what to do next, and you get up and do it. You don’t get stuck, you don’t pull others down with you. Improving your own bounce will even help others do the same. 

Through this transition process, Petra has experienced a few bumps in the road. She's made mistakes in her hurry to get things done. She's overlooked crucial details, and forgotten about tasks entirely. Petra knew she needed help - something had to improve or she would drown in it all, so she figured out what worked for her. It was overwhelming, but she didn’t flail around. She prioritized the people who are important - herself and those counting on her. 

Even with all of the muck she was trudging through, Petra didn’t let herself become stuck. Her resilience allowed her to reach the other side, and people noticed. Her coworkers began following in her footsteps, and her superiors were impressed. Resilience is what empowered Petra to head towards even better. 

What do you do when it feels like you've gone overboard? What are your survival tips for staying afloat? Let us know in the comments!



Topics: Sinikka Waugh, Change & Transition, Growth

Sinikka Waugh

About the Author

Sinikka Waugh

Sinikka Waugh is a recognized leader in understanding people and in adapting tools, techniques, and processes to meet the demands of the situation at hand. Since 2006, Sinikka has provided compassionate leadership in transformation initiatives. When she isn’t in front of a class, she enjoys putting her background in English and French Literature to work, by writing blogs about the subjects she teaches every day. Are you ready? If you are, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!








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