The Trap of #Workfomo

By Jeffrey Whitford
Jan 30, 2018 10:10 AM ET
Blog

I often find myself straddling a line between pushing forward on new Corporate Responsibility programs and reminding myself to stay the course. While there’s value in bringing new ideas to the table, it’s also important to complete what we’ve already invested a significant amount of time and energy on. It’s like I have two Jeffreys sitting on my shoulders—one is “You Can Do More Jeffrey” and the other is “Remember Balance Jeffrey”. Those two dueling Jeffreys are in full effect at the end of a year or the beginning of a new year, when I take a step back and reflect and plan for what our next year will look like.   

One thing I spend a lot of time thinking about is the future. That’s one big part of my job, and I default to it because it’s the part that I like the most. I’ve also found success in that space. The details of how it all gets done are important. I can wade through them when forced, but ask anyone who knows me and they can probably mimic a face I’d make when you start talking about details. However, this year I was especially keen on seeing us really dig deeper into the details. Somewhere between late November and early January, I landed on what was going to be my “stand” for 2018, double down.

While I’m not sure what led me to my approach for 2018, I’ve already talked individually with my team about focusing on what we’ve got going—which in of itself is a daunting list of massive projects that is anything but short. From where I’m sitting, this isn’t a year to create more—it’s a year to double down and invest the necessary time to get all of the engines humming together in harmony. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was relaying how I couldn’t believe as the person who is always “more, more, more,” I was saying let’s not add more until we’ve got a few other things finalized and to a place of sustainability—pun intended. I could hear and feel “You Can Do More Jeffrey” start to itch.

We all know that we have a finite amount of resources available, and sometimes I choose to believe that and sometimes I ignore it and push for more—my team is singing an audible hallelujah right about now if I’d stick to the believing it part.  Maybe it’s that my humanness is finally becoming a reality to me. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to the days where I was seemingly able to complete all of the tasks that I had on my plate. Work didn’t follow me around and lurk over me, reminding me how many emails I have outstanding (+323), how many voicemails I need to return (+11) or that excessive task lists in my new planner or on my phone. Those outstanding communications, to-do lists and 14 hour days loaded with endless meetings make getting things done even more of a challenge—thus why staring into the future is so alluring.

Nevertheless, what I’ve decided is worse is not realizing the full potential of the work we’ve already put into our current initiatives. I had a friend recently compare what I’ve been experiencing to being a farmer. We’ve had lots of successful harvests and are now finding ourselves in a place where the crop is bigger and the work is harder—but when it’s time for harvest, watch out. The hypothesis that I’m now counting on is that with a renewed level of focus and by trimming down how thin we spread ourselves, we can complete the tasks that have seemingly sat waiting to get completed in 2017 and just didn’t make it over the finish line.

Our team, in particular, has to have two work personalities or skill sets—and those two things don’t typically coexist effectively. We need to be one part program creator/manager and one part communicator—and, in this instance, one plus one doesn’t equal two. So, it’s not just about executing the programs, but rather it’s about amplifying them so we get the traction. We have competitors who are trying to duplicate our approach; and we have collaborators who didn’t think our ideas would work and are now thinking about bigger and better; and we’ve got more interest from our business to figure out how we can partner to make an even bigger impact. 

And in the face of this, we have to know when to say no. It pains me—like, literally pains me—to say no to new ideas and opportunities, but sometimes we have to know when to give up something good for something better. The something good in this case is more ideas and more opportunities to tackle big challenges. By engaging more stakeholders in the short term, we can ultimately enroll them in something meaningful and great for the long haul. Previously, I’ve talked about our fight to avoid being the flavor of the moment, or the shiny object that eventually fades away. Through a track record of completing what you said you’d do and delivering value—even though we may miss out on something in the short-term—I think that doubling down will deliver the long-term win!

Jeffrey Whitford is head of global corporate responsibility for MilliporeSigma.