Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 19

Creating Overview – an Underrated Professional Skill

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 19

Episode 19 / 1 June 2021


Welcome to this 3rd episode in a small series I’ve called: “Plan and Succeed”.

The Headless Chicken Syndrome

Have you ever had that feeling at the end of the workday that you couldn’t really tell what you’d been doing all day?

Back in the days, I distinctively remember evenings where my husband asked how my day had been, and I responded something like “umm, ok, I guess?”.

All the while I was frantically searching my brain to find out what I actually had done that day?

Sure, I’d felt crazy busy attending endless meetings and responding to questions from colleagues and clients in between meetings. And whenever there was a small break somewhere, I’d been checking and responding to emails.

But what had I actually achieved with all this busyness?

That was sometimes hard for me to put a finger on. For as a good friend phrased it: I’d been “running around like a headless chicken”. An image that really says it all…

Because on a workday like that, I’d been racing through the day trying to tackle all the requests and tasks thrown at me.

But I had totally lost the overview. And that left me with a vague, but unpleasant feeling of having lost control.

Having an overview sounds like a very simple thing, yet so many of us tend to want to rush right into action, that we overlook the essential starting point of creating an overview.

Do You Know Where You’re Going?

Maybe you remember my car analogy from episode 3, the one called “What Drives You – And What Drains You?”?

Have you ever been driving your car to a place where you were a little late and now you were not entirely sure which way to take?

And then you decided that you didn’t have the time to stop and look at the map or set the GPS. So, you just drove on, hoping that you were going the right way. But unfortunately, you got even more late, because you got even more lost before you decided that you really had to stop, and course correct.

The most effective thing would of course have been to get your overview and your bearings before you started out in the first place.

And the second most effective thing would have been to stop at the time you realised you might be lost and get your overview back. Look at the map or set the GPS.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that I’m talking about my own experience here! And when it has happened, I have every time promised myself to always make sure to get an overview and set the directions before I start driving next time.

So why do we keep ending up in these situations?

Not only in traffic but also in the workplace and in life in general?

Overview Is Essential for Success With Any Kind of Endeavour

We’re so busy getting work DONE, that we start racing off without being sure if we’re going in the right direction. Because often in our work, we can’t see the wood for the trees. We’re so busy dealing with immediate urgencies that we sometimes lose track of what our bigger objectives are.

In fact, it’s my firm belief that creating – and keeping – an overview is vital for succeeding with any kind of endeavour.

At work or at home.

Because when you have an overview, you get the full picture. And when you have the full picture, then you can make clever and effective prioritizations.

And on top of that, you also create a sense of calm for yourself.

Because even if there’s a lot to do – and even if you might not realistically be able to do it all yourself – with an overview, you know you haven’t forgotten anything. Which is a fear that is often a big stress factor in itself. And you can then plan your way forward.

When You Have Overview, You Can Prioritize

When you have an overview, you can deliberately take action. You can prioritize and decide what needs to happen.

What is priority no. 1? What’s no. 2? Does something need to be postponed? Or delegated? Or even taken off the chart?

With a clear overview, you can much better talk to management about how to realistically deal with the issues in your project. Without a good overview, you won’t feel confident in that discussion.

So, creating and maintaining a clear overview of your tasks, your projects, your responsibilities and your goals will make you more effective in your day-to-day tasks, in your meetings, in your project management, etc.

So, as you can see, making sure you always have an overview will help you perform as a professional on a daily basis and earn you respect from both your peers and your supervisors!

Do You Have A Career Overview?

But it’s not only in your day-to-day work that overview will help you. It’s also in your career management and life outside work.

Many of my clients have been working hard for years.

First, they studied hard. Then they started their professional career, while often also starting their family. And for a long time, they’ve been busy doing everything that was next on the list.

Getting up when the alarm rings, preparing breakfast, packing lunches, getting the children off to school followed by busy days at work. Then picking up children from school, preparing dinner, helping with homework and maybe doing some work after dinner. And finally, watching the news or a bit of Netflix and then to bed.

Maybe you recognize this routine?

And the next day it all starts over again. So, you’re essentially too busy to do much in-depth thinking about what makes a happy career and a fulfilling work-life for you.

After years in this hamster wheel, you’ve just about forgotten what it is that you wanted for yourself.

In order to find that out again, you need to step back and create an overview for yourself:
– Where are you at today?
– What do you enjoy right now? What makes you happy at work?
– What not so much?
– Where would you like to see yourself and your family in the future? Midterm and long-term?

If you haven’t already, I recommend that you pause here and go back and listen to episode 6 where I introduce the Wheel of Life exercise which is super relevant in this situation.

So – I hope I convinced you about the virtues of creating an overview. But how do you do that?

3 Keys to Creating Overview

The examples here are mostly work-related but remember that the principles can be applied equally well outside work.

1. Write It All Down

So, the first simple step is to make sure you write everything down. Put all your work meetings and all your personal appointments in your calendar. Put all your tasks on a list.

Even if you think you’re good at remembering things in your head, don’t waste mental energy on this – use that energy for your work instead. You need to get things out of your head and down on paper (or on the screen) in order to create and see the overview.

2. Put Everything on Your Master List

The second step is to keep a master list. This means writing down everything you’d like to do and everything you need to do in one, single list.

Avoid at all costs the idea of keeping different tasks and projects in different places.

You want to get to the point where you know that when you look in this one place, (whether it’s a list, an organizer or an application) you see everything you have on. Whether at work or at home.

Again, if you can’t see everything in one place it’s impossible to get an overview of what’s on your plate. And you won’t be able to prioritize your tasks. Instead, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed.

In a later episode, I’ll share how you use these principles to optimize your daily planning and your more long-term planning.

3. Create Supportive Habits

You do that with small daily processes where you for example:

  • add all new tasks to your dedicated master list
  • make a plan for your work every day
  • clear your office desk every day at the end of your workday
  • empty your email inbox every day
  • plan your week, etc.

Do Your Reps!

An overview is like physical training – or housework. It’s not enough to create it once and then leave it alone. It’s like staying fit – or keeping the kitchen tidy.

Small actions and processes with a big effect.

It may seem boring to tidy the kitchen and dining table at night, but it’s so much better in the morning to wake up to a clean and nice smelling house instead of a mess.

And it can seem tedious to spend 5 minutes clearing your desk at the end of your workday, but it’s so much better to start work in the morning at an empty desk.

It’s about creating a few good habits that keep things clear and tidy around you, mentally and physically.

All these small habits may seem simple and mundane, but they will make you feel that you are in control of your work – instead of your work controlling you.

Overview = Better Decisions – and Less Stress

When you have an overview of your tasks and your goals, you can:

  • Make sharp prioritisations that are better informed, and therefore you can
  • Make better decisions
  • Save brainpower and mental energy that you can instead use on completing your tasks (or spending time with your children at night instead of worrying about work!)
  • Avoid stress and burnout

So, it really is well worth your time to create a clear overview, whether it’s before you get into your car, before you start your workday – or before you start shooting off random job applications.

Get Support

As always, it can be really helpful to get support in implementing your new habits. Perhaps you have a good friend or colleague who could be your accountability partner and work alongside you?

Maybe you can share experiences from implementing each of your master lists – or help each other remember to clear your desks before you close down at the end of the day?

So many tasks are easier when you get support.

What’s Next?

In the next episode in this series, I’ll talk about you can create traction on a daily basis. And I’ll share some simple and concrete tips for that. But I’m hoping that in the meantime I’ll be able to share an inspiring interview with you!

If you enjoyed this episode, then please think about sharing it with a colleague or a friend in the UN who might be interested in this topic as well. Most people find podcasts through word of mouth, so you would not only be helping your friend, but you would also be supporting the show. Thank you!