Overcoming “collaboration burnout”

The recent NYTimes article titled “The Rise of the New Groupthink” really got me… well, thinking. The premise of the article was that workplaces, schools and even congregations are increasingly leaning on collaboration and brainstorming while leaving little room for privacy and uninterrupted work time. Susan Cain, the article’s author writes, “solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence.” More companies are embracing open workplaces with cubicles and classrooms are herding kids together for never-ending teamwork with little to no emphasis on quiet, personal reflection. Cain goes on to cite studies which show that people who work in “open-plan offices… are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion.”

You may not work in an open workspace. You may have a closed office. But consider how many meetings are you attending every day. How many committees, brainstorming groups and boards are you a member of? How often are you checking your email, voicemail, social networks in and out of the office? These are forms of collaboration that quietly steal time from reflection, moving you out of the space where strategic action and innovation can take place.  Who hasn’t been to a meeting or read an email that caused stress, increased our blood pressure and zapped us of energy?

This is by no means an argument to get rid of teamwork and collaboration. They are important tools for gaining diverse and creative ideas, getting buy-in and moving a project or concept forward quickly and efficiently. However, for leaders who are steering the ship it is important to create some clear skies so as to not get lost in the fog of meetings, email and social media.

Here are three simple strategies that can help you avoid “collaboration burnout”, so you maintain the energy and focus needed to cultivate creative ideas and move your organization forward successfully.

All’s Well That Starts Well

Consider your morning routine and the first five activities that comprise it. The way you start your day generally sets the tone for the rest of the day. Many of my clients check email before they even step out of bed and immediately turn on the news to see what tragedy has happened in the world. That just screams stress! Take notice of the first five things you do in the morning and modify your routine accordingly. The first five activities should be guiltlessly self-centered. Do some stretching when you get out of bed, turn on some music you enjoy, make a cup of tea, eat breakfast and take a shower before allowing the stress and noise of the world to creep in.

Have a “Me Meeting”

I’m sure you have no problem committing to meetings with other people. But what about a meeting with yourself? Without some time to decompress we are less effective, more agitated and just overall unhappy. Try scheduling “me meetings” in your calendar as you would any other meeting (and commit to them!). These “meetings” could be taking 20 minutes for breakfast every morning, walking around the block at work during lunchtime, going to the gym three times a week or a standing lunch with friends every month. Start tuning into what you need physically, emotionally and spiritually so keep the wheels on the “you bus” moving smoothly and effortlessly.

Avoid the Octopus Syndrome

Multitasking is completely and utterly overrated. It’s not a talent or a skill that you should admire or hope to cultivate. Spreading yourself too thin will only lead to shoddy work, resulting in anxiety and madness. The primary change I suggest to my clients is to stop eating in front of the computer. Thoughtless eating can condition us to habitually eating food that doesn’t necessarily nourish or satisfy us. Most of the time, we only end up hungry afterwards. Eat lunch away from your computer, in the cafeteria, outside on a bench or with friends in the break room. Multitasking doesn’t always have to be physical – we often do the majority of multitasking in our heads. We might be working on a report, but in the back of our minds we’re thinking of all the other tasks that need to be completed. Next time those thoughts creep in, notice them, acknowledge them but don’t judge yourself. Write them down and push them aside. Focus on this moment, this job; focus on the task at hand. Having a running to do list scatters your energy, creativity and focus, resulting in finishing a number of projects haphazardly, instead of producing one satisfactory piece of work.

Tanya McCausland, N.E. is a holistic health and lifestyle coach and founder of Home Cooked Healing. She has made it her mission to help individuals and organizations successfully make positive changes that will have a huge impact on their health, happiness and bottom line.

This article is from our January 25, 2012 newsletter. Click here to view all our newsletter articles and features.

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