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The One Word We Need to Stop Saying

Being overwhelmed isn’t a badge of honor.

Can we please stop saying we’re overwhelmed? Telegraphing that we’re overworked – I’m slammed! I’m drowning! I’m swamped! I’m underwater! — needs to stop being a badge of honor, a way of saying you take your job seriously. It’s so common, it’s practically replaced hello as a standard greeting.

But what are we really saying when we say we’re in a constant state of being overwhelmed?

Of course, there are workplaces that put unreasonable demands and expectations on employees there. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about those who are constantly saying how overwhelmed they are, when what they’re really transmitting is one or more of the following.

First, that they don’t know how to prioritize and make decisions about what absolutely has to be done, and what can wait.

Second, that they’re not able to structure their lives in a way that makes clear what’s really important and that allows them to take care of themselves, and refuel and recharge while doing a great job.

Third, that they’re not comfortable with incompletions.

At Thrive Global, we believe in these so strongly that we’ve combined these into one of our cultural values: “We relentlessly prioritize and are comfortable with incompletions.” There is no interesting job in which you can actually go to bed that night having done absolutely everything you could have done. Indeed, if you have a job in which you have no incompletions at the end of the day, I highly recommend you change jobs because it means that you’re not being sufficiently challenged. It doesn’t mean never doing the incompletions, it just means capturing them in some way, like a pending, a Google Doc, or one of the multiple to-do apps on the market. And when we determine that something isn’t a priority it opens up new space and more time. If you adopt these three principles, there’s never any reason to be overwhelmed.

The more interesting, ambitious, creative and meaningful we want our work to be, the more we’ll need to not only be comfortable with incompletions, but embrace them. And when we can do this, we’re able to declare an end to each day knowing we’ve handled the essential priorities – but also knowing that we’ll arrive tomorrow recharged and ready to tackle challenges, seize opportunities and create new possibilities.

So next time you hear someone tell you they’re overwhelmed, do an intervention – chances are it’s not their job that needs to change but how they’re doing it.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- Marcus Aurelius

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