Inside the Lines

Coloring was a very enjoyable past-time for me as a child. I took my time selecting which crayon color I would use for the patterns in my coloring book, took my time testing out the color’s smooth feel on the page, testing out its ability to evenly display the hue within the lines and, all-the-while, it gave me a sense of calm. What I didn’t like about coloring was sharing one page of the book while someone else used it. It seemed they were always finished first, waiting on me to catch up. That put pressure on my slow, methodical, calm approach. I tried to do more, choose quicker, forget about the joy of sliding the crayon on the pattern. Just get it done. Yet as an introvert, getting it done wasn’t important.

Managing my workload is the adult perspective of learning how to color inside the lines. It helps me create the calm I am after, unaffected by those working alongside me. Unfortunately, many introverts are motivated to do too much, because we are seen as thorough workers, experts, and are encouraged to commit ourselves to more things more often.

Do you ever have workload anxiety?

Yesterday’s blog post, Introvert Barrier #1, focuses on stress and the three factors that most often impact introverts. The first factor, work overload, is one that was a huge factor in my teaching career. For 16 years I was a high school speech, English and drama teacher, early on coaching basketball and volleyball, although feeling inadequate in the roles. My favorite extra-curricular commitment was directing high school plays and musicals. I enjoyed it so much I let that focus expand so that I directed 2 productions yearly and gradually added being the Executive Director of the community’s local youth theatre program in addition to my full-time teaching.

There is a behavioral pattern called Doing Too Much, Pushing Too Hard that I quickly subscribed to. As you can imagine, late nights with theatre rehearsals and early morning homework grading became a part of my routine. Not on occasion – this was my mode of operation. I commonly brewed and drank 6-8 cups of coffee each morning prior to leaving home en route to school. As any introvert can tell you, burning the candle at both ends leaves a nasty impact on the body, yet it’s worse in the introvert’s mind. I was left thinking I would never see an end to this routine – I was good at what I did, was responsible for taking on multiple projects while being expected to handle the typical work-day classroom and load.

My error was in my thinking – I thought others were responsible for my overload. Others saw my work and wanted more. My aha came when I realized it was up to me to decide how much is too much. And then do something to set and maintain my own boundaries.

In business we see this philosophy as the ability to create desire, fulfill it, and leave them wanting more. Some business owners think the customer dictates our work schedule and our production. Others believe less is more. Provide the carrot, understand the receiver’s interest and motivate their involvement. Even professional speakers and marketers practice the idea of efficiency and focus vs. rambling forever.

Work overload kills energy and confidence that introverts are already in short supply of. The best thing I did to address my own circumstances was remember what I was good at and say yes to those commitments while saying no to things I had once believed I “needed” to do. No more detached coloring-book moments, feeling driven to just get it done. No more Doing Too Much, Pushing Too Hard. I could get back to enjoying the activities of my life, as well as the people.

The decision to commit to few things while enjoying them gave me back my personality, my private life and even my confidence in myself – let alone reduced my stress. It can for you, too.

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On January 10th, 2012, posted in: doing too much, managing self, work overload by