Boxer, the horse from George Orwell’s classic text Animal Farm, had one answer to adversity: “The solution, as I see it, is to work harder.”

It is a poignant allegory for Stalinist exploitation of working-class Russian revolutionaries. But it is also a cautionary tale for those of us who, like me, find that our first reaction to a heavy workload is to bear down instead of to step back.

We all know that working smarter is, well, smarter. Yet so often in my work coaching senior leaders to better apply GTD®, I encounter very smart people who have fallen back into chanting the “I must work harder” mantra to themselves.

Like a horse wearing blinkers, in this mode it often seems the only option is to bear down, lean in, and push harder. Sometimes this may be appropriate. Usually, though, the time it takes to step back and spend a bit of time working on your work, instead of always just “in it”, pays off.

Recognising that you have fallen into the trap of believing your only option is to put your nose to the grindstone is the first important step. After that, you need to regroup, recoup, and re-engage.

Regular one-to-one GTD coaching is by far the most effective way to accelerate these behaviours. Yet any amount of time spent consciously engaged with these activities, in any form, can really help.

In the GTD personal productivity methodology, regrouping involves reflecting on both your workload and working practices in a structured way. This can involve any or all aspects of the GTD Weekly Review®. Using the framework of the Weekly Review can also help you to look at what is working – and what’s not – in relation to your project management, scheduling, and relationships with co-workers.

Next, you need to recoup some of the energy you have been expending. This definitely can and should involve downtime and rest. But another way that we can re-claim energy is by completing – or simply declaring done or on hold – some of the outstanding items on our lists and in our life.

Neither of these activities need to take a lot of time. Yet pausing even briefly to check in with yourself can have a major impact on both your own well-being and the outcomes you are looking to achieve.

When you do then go to re-engage, you carry forward a bit of that precious commodity – perspective – into the work ahead. It may be that what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, or even the whole context in which you are operating, could be off track in some significant way. And there is nothing more exhausting and dispiriting than racing faster toward the wrong finish line.

In the end, the pigs in charge of the farm reward Boxer’s hard work and heroic bravery by sending him to the glue factory.

So the next time your equine instincts kick in to “just work harder”, I encourage you instead take a moment to regroup, recoup, and re-engage.

If nothing else, it might stop you getting knackered for nothing.

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