Don’t be a Mad Hatter – Fuel Your Business Performance

Posted on 06. Jul, 2011 by donal in New Ways to Work

If you’re feeling information overloaded, powerless and overwhelmed at work, there’s a number of practical steps you can take to get back in control.

Recently, I’ve reading a lot about the human effects of information overload. People start to to lose the ability to make decisions, process information and prioritize tasks. I find myself constantly reminded of the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

If you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” then you’ll recall that the tea party is a rather chaotic affair. The partygoers suddenly switch places at the table, ask unanswerable riddles, recite ridiculous poetry, pass personal remarks. Sensible girl that Alice is she doesn’t hang around for long. As she leaves, she sees the Mad Hatter and the March Hare stuffing the Dormouse into a teapot.

For me the tea party evokes feelings of being out of control.

Such feelings are a serious matter, both for businesses operating in the knowledge economy and individuals who work in them. If a person feels like they have control in their jobs, the quality of their work increases, they feel happier and the business performs better.

Mindset and your locus of control

Mindset is a key factor. Successful people have an “internal locus of control,” a core belief that their actions can have a positive effect on events around them. Conversely, people with an “external locus” feel they are not in control of their environment and can fall into the grip of “learned helplessness,” a psychological state in which people feel powerless to change themselves or life situations.

Some people are inherently prone to an external locus, however we can all fall into this mindset when feeling overwhelmed. In the book “The Happiness Advantage – The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work,” Shawn Achor offers help.

The Zorro Circle

In principle #5, The Zorro Circle, Shawn suggests that when overwhelmed, if “we first concentrate our efforts on small manageable goals, we regain the feelings of control so crucial to performance.”

Paying the interest on email debt

Shawn tells the story of a manager who allowed over 1400 emails build up in his inbox. Not only did the manager want to avoid dealing with the issue, he was so overwhelmed he didn’t feel like doing any work at all.

  1. First Achor got the manager to express his feelings in order to move the challenge from the emotional part of his brain to the problem-solving part. He used a journalling process to release stress.
  2. Next they worked on making the goal manageable. Achor advised the manager to forget the backlog in the short term and tackle only new emails. In a way, the manager started paying just enough to cover the interest on his email debt.
  3. After a few days, feeling more in command of the situation, the manager started work through the backlog, a little bit each day.
  4. Three weeks later his inbox was down to just five emails. Small manageable steps forward had lead to a major achievement.

Learn More

For more about Shawn Achor and how positive psychology can help people perform better in a world of increasing workloads you can visit his website.

In his new book “Anything You Want,” Derek Sivers used a journalling type technique to get perspective at crunch periods in his business.

Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer discuss how “Small Wins and Feeling Good,” can help people achieve “big, hairy, audacious goals”.

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