Imagine this situation: You are going through an intense season, and the work never stops. The requirements are intolerable. “Time for a break, please!” a small voice in your head says.
You continue anyhow, convincing yourself that the holiday will soon be here. You give up a few nights of sleep because you know it will be worthwhile during the getaway.
Then, the holiday finally arrives. It’s amazing! But after a week of bliss, it’s soon to be Monday again. On Sunday night, you dread the ‘revenge work’ coming: an avalanche of emails awaits you in your inbox.
Resting is good, and the Bible tells us it is godly (Exodus 23:12, Mark 2:27). Rick Warren wisely advises that we should “divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually”.
But what happens when your feeling of dread and unbearable workload doesn’t go away after a weekend of rest?
Here are 3 ways to manage that unbearable workload (apart from resting!)
1. Increase your capacity: recruit and release
In Exodus 18, when Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) visits Moses at the height of his ministry to the people of Israel, he observes Moses’ heavy workload and impending burnout and gives him this advice:
“You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (Exodus 18:17-23)
Jethro’s advice remains true for us today. In our walk with God, we are all called to significant work. Our work may not look like what Moses was called to, but wherever God has placed us, the work He has purposed for us is significant. We will be called to grow and expand in scale and effectiveness.
You have two options as the scope of the impact and reach expands: do more on your own, or involve others by increasing the capacity to share the workload.
So how do we increase our capacity to do more and scale up the work God has called us into?
- Double down on your role: Know what only you should do, then teach and delegate the rest to others. Focus on what only you can do, which is the main thing you are meant to pay attention to. Leadership development begins when leaders don’t see delegation as an abdication of tasks but as empowerment and an opportunity for others to be involved. But to know what you can pass on and give away to others, you must first identify what you are primarily called to do. In Moses’ case, it was to be people’s representative before God and only to judge the “difficult cases”. Other judges could do everything else (i.e. judging the people), so the key to Moses’ increased capacity was to recruit other judges and raise them.
- Identify new recruits and raise them. “Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” (Exodus 18:20-21) Notice how Jethro advises Moses to select differently-abled people: some people are capable over thousands, and then some people are capable of only the tens. Spot people by observing their potential, recruit them to join in the task and teach them how to do it (and note, teaching means to “show them the way” rather than just telling them what to do).
Delegation involves 3 T’s:
Time (lots of it!)
Therefore, while it usually costs us energy and effort initially, it eventually pays off. Our capacity to meet the challenges before us immediately doubles when we raise another leader.
Question: Is there a way to do more by involving others in the mission?
Who can I recruit and what can I release (delegate) to others, so that this does not fall completely on me?
Action: Train up, empower and delegate parts of the work (and authority) to others.
2. Decrease the demand: re-prioritize and re-define
Sometimes, some projects aren’t meant to be scaled up. In fact, they aren’t even worth your time and energy!
So, repeat after this: “Not everything good is right, not everything right is now, and not everything now is mine”
In the Bible, Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. The Bible reminds us that we are runners in a race, and every run requires focus and minimal drag (the friction caused by a force acting opposite to the motion of movement).
Ask yourself, “Are my role and goals aligned, and is everything I am doing what I should be doing now?”
You may want to evaluate your tasks using the “Impact vs Effort” matrix.
Are you investing in high-effort, but low-impact activities? Eliminate them. They aren’t worth the effort.
Do you spend much time focusing on low-effort but low-impact activities? Schedule them.
They may make you feel productive (because you’re doing something relatively effortless), but they are not necessarily useful.
Are you working on low-effort but high-impact activities? Celebrate them!
They are your quick wins, but they also represent something you could potentially teach to others if you are ‘consciously competent’ about them (i.e. you know how to explain, break down and teach how to accomplish them to others).
Finally, are you focusing your energy on high-effort and high-impact tasks? Prioritise them.
Consider improving and/or automating how you do these tasks. The difference between working hard and working smart is often the difference between something good done with either high or low effort.
Question: Are my roles and goals aligned, and is everything I am doing what I should be doing now? What is the slack/wastage I can cut? Not everything good is right, not everything right is now, not everything now is mine!
Action: Clarify goals with your leaders, and decide which goals and work areas need to be deprioritized or eliminated.
3. Improve and innovate: re-think and re-imagine
In 1769, the first steam-powered car capable of carrying human passengers was built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot.
Until then, any improvements to the speed of human transportation involved breeding faster horses, running faster, or going by easier terrain.
As humans created in the image of God, we have an in-built capacity to imagine a future that could be, and to create new ways of working to accomplish old things.
All of the Bible’s miracles and great breakthroughs began with a problem. How might God use you to bring a new solution to an old problem?
Heavy workloads can be made lighter with tools, better processes, new ways of thinking and a re-imagination of why and how things are done.
Most innovations and improvements to ways of working involve the three steps below:
1) defining the problem clearly, 2) determining the condition for success, and 3) exploring different ways to accomplish a new solution.
Let’s explore these 3 steps a little more.
- Define the problem by asking the question, “what is the real roadblock here?” Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Be honest and specific – what is the core issue causing a problem? Maybe even ask “why” a few times until you get to the real root of the issue.
- Having defined the problem, determine: what is necessary for success? Are there conditions, materials, and resources you need to accomplish the task? In 2002, when Elon Musk embarked on a new, seemingly impossible effort to send the first rocket to Mars, he encountered a major problem: the cost of making a rocket was astronomical – up to $65 million! But using the principle of asking, “what are the basic, essential conditions necessary for success?”, Musk asked the simple question, “what is a rocket made of?”, and realised the possibility of making his own rocket was much more tenable: the raw materials were accessible and cheaper, the expertise was available, and the talent was recruit-able.
- Explore different ways of solution-finding. Test and try. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ways of working. It may seem like less work to attempt a new process or system, but every new technological advance involves, at first, a step-back to consider how something could be done differently to step up the impact.
Question: How can this roadblock and limitation be a new opportunity for creative thinking? How can I do this differently in ways that would lead to multiplication rather than stagnation? Could this be automated? Is there a digital solution for this? An expert who is doing this in a smarter way whom I can learn from?
Action: Look at the ‘first principles’ of each problem causing an unsustainable amount of workload, then try different and new ways of doing this work.