Emma Vallin, Organizational & Leadership Consultant


I hear many people saying that work is crazy busy right now. It usually is this time of year. On top of the end of year frenzy, many of us struggle with pressure to deliver more with less resources, often with less clarity.

I listened to a talk by an emergency physician about Triage – a sorting system to allocate limited resources to do as much good as possible. The criteria differ between country and situation, but in essence: when disaster hits, there should be no doubt about whom to treat first.

Without in any way comparing corporate pressure to emergency care, wouldn’t it be great to have a clear-cut way to allocate our personal resources (time, energy, and cognitive capacity) when things get ‘crazy busy’?

As a starting point, ask yourself:
1️⃣ What are my top 3 priorities? (the easy part)
2️⃣ How are they reflected in my calendar? (the painful part)
3️⃣ How can I design my work, so that my most productive time is spent on my top priorities? (the game-changing part)

Or as Steven C would say: When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.

Some hours are more equal than others

Pulling an all-nighter, doing 80-hour weeks, burning the midnight oil.

There are countless cultural references and expressions of overwork, most of them talk about the number of hours we work.

Emma Vallin, Organizational & Leadership Consultant

The 8-hour workday can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution and was introduced as a way to give workers enough time to rest from heavy manual labor. In a knowledge based society, where many of us mainly work with our brains, what would be the equivalent rule? How should our workdays be structured to optimize and protect our cognitive muscles?

We have all experienced days or meetings that left us completely spent, barely able to hold a conversation with our family at the dinner table. Some tasks are just more cognitively demanding than others. A 30-minute disorganized Teams meeting with conflicts can leave us mentally drained while a whole week of working on a passion project can even add to our energy depot. These insights are particularly important when you’re in a billable hour practice or run your own business.

Or as George Orwell might have put it, had he been writing LinkedIn articles in 2023:

‘All hours are equal, but some hours are more equal than others.’

I find human capacity and performance management fascinating and I’m not surprised that it’s a well researched topic. There are numerous behavioral science studies and psychology papers exploring human endurance and how we maximize performance. From looking at what world record holding athletes have in common to analyzing iconic chess games.

I recently came across Samuele Mancona’s study about how mental and physical fatigue are linked. It was described in Alex Hutchingson’s book Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, which I can really recommend. In the study, Mancona asked volunteers to be part of two time-to-exhaustion tests on a stationary bike. Basically, the participants were asked to cycle until they were too exhausted to continue. Ahead of the first test, the volunteers were asked to spend 90 minutes on a mentally draining computer game that required their full attention. Ahead of the second test, the participants were instead asked to watch a bland and emotionally neutral documentary.

After the mentally draining computer game the volunteers gave up 15,1% earlier on the bike test.

There were no physiological explanations to the time difference – their heart rates, lactate levels etc. were the same. They were similarly motivated in both the tests as the best performance was rewarded with a $50 prize. The difference was that when the participants were mentally fatigued, they reached their perceived point of physical exhaustion quicker.

In the study, they used the Borg scale, after Swedish psychologist Gunnar Borg, to measure perceived exertion. In his view perceived exertion is the best measurement of physical strain since it’s based on signals not only from muscles, joints and the cardiovascular system but from the central nervous system as well.

Here’s more from Orwell:

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

The results of the study might make sense to us instinctively even if I for one can’t explain it. But it does make me wonder why so many workplaces are still organizing work based on hours, as if all hours were indeed created equally. Surprisingly often I meet managers who expect their team to clock 40, 60 or 80 hours per week, regardless of the kind of work the employees have done or the results generated.

Our jobs are more cognitively demanding today than ever before. The value we add, as simpler tasks are AI’ed out, is often about solving complex problems, managing change or generating ideas – mentally expensive work. Add to that all the distractions we expose our brains to every day.

I believe managing our cognitive resources will be a critical skill going forward, both for achieving meaningful work goals and for important social interactions.

So how would we organize and measure work if LinkedIn-Orwell had a say in it?

    1. USE COGNITIVE RESOURCES WISELY. Since attention is a scarce resources, be mindful what you spend or waste it on. Do a cost benefit analysis for the things you spend a lot of time on, like meetings and emails. A study published in MIT Sloan Management Review 2022 found that by implementing just one meeting free day per week companies improved autonomy by 62%, cooperation with 15% and engagement with 28%. Avoid powering through when you feel exhausted, it’s counterproductive.
    2. AUTOMATE. We make thousands of decisions every day and each decision uses a part of our cognitive capacity. To focus your decision-making energy on the things that really matter we need to automate as many decisions as possible. Barack Obama allegedly only had one type of suits to eliminate that decision every morning.
    3. HAVE STRIPED DAYS. Mix more challenging tasks with easier throughout day. Balance physical and cognitive tasks. Take frequent breaks and longer breaks. Change the environment you’re in – go work in the office canteen for an hour. Avoid de-prioritizing rest, exercise or sleep. Avoid back-to-back meetings and tasks.
    4. LEAD THE WAY. As leaders, you need to role model this way of viewing work. Be open about what you need to do your best work and what boundaries you have. As organizations we need to start rewarding and promoting responsible energy management. In business planning or when resourcing projects, make sure you are crystal on the cognitive capacity you have and how to prioritize it. Call out ways of working that misuse people’s energy.

Over to you:

How can you organize your work to get the highest ‘ROCI – return on cognitive investment’ or ‘bang for the mental energy buck?’

Are distractions keeping you from greatness?

Many of my clients experience an acute lack of focus time, what they often call ‘real work’. They are overwhelmed by the constant flow of emails, meeting invites and ‘urgent’ requests from stakeholders.

It’s not surprising. A study from Loughborough University (T.W Jackson, 2021) found that 84% of professionals always keep their inbox open in the background with 70% of emails being opened within 6 seconds of receipt. Given that the average knowledge worker receives 120 emails per day (Earthweb, J Wise, 2022) and on top of that a constant flow of Slack- or Teams notifications and social media updates, we are setting ourselves up for failure at best. Burnout at worst.

What does this availability cost? For your focus, for your health, for your productivity?

Why is it so hard to turn off distractions, even though we know it’s what we need the most?

Throughout evolution we have been rewarded for being curious. There are powerful neurotransmitters like Dopamine involved, which makes checking emails or social media likes difficult habits to control. It’s more important than ever that organizations put sustainable communication practices in place and that their leaders live by them.

And yes, in periods we might need to be more accessible. But I challenge everyone to schedule undistracted focus time at least once per day. It’s critical for our focus, wellbeing and productivity at work.

Slowing down doesn’t mean accomplishing less; it means cutting out counterproductive distractions and the perception of being rushed. – Tim Ferriss

Here are a few thing you can try:

  1. Get the Pen and paper out. Go analog when you are next solving a problem or planning an activity.
  2. Use mornings wisely. Studies show that out stress tolerance is higher in the mornings, making the first couple of hours of work out ‘cognitively expensive’. If possible, block undisturbed time for your priorities in the morning.
  3. Plan for productivity. The 52:17 rule, first described in a Muse article in 2014 is a method by which you spend 52 minutes of intensive, purposeful work followed by 17 minutes of rest away from your computer. People using this method were found to have a unique level of focus and productivity.
  4. Go Walkflecting: Walk+Reflection. A powerful practice to increase our creativity, wellbeing and productivity. Just make sure you turn off your mobile.

What could you do more of if you were less distracted?

How can you help yourself focus on what really matters?

Common toxic life-rules and how to break them

So, you’ve come a long way in your personal development. Your self-leadership skills are well developed, you’ve made friends with your values and know your overdeveloped strengths. You know what drains you and what makes your dopamine flow.

Suddenly the growth stops.

Your coping strategies become ineffective, the stress management techniques useless and you fall back into negative habits.

Behavioral scientists call them dysfunctional core beliefs, the often-toxic life-rules that cause negative stress and stand in the way of your development. They are deep-rooted principles telling you what you ’must’ and ’should’ do to be successful, loved, or happy. These beliefs are often inherited or formed early on in life. They are central to your self-image and breaking them can be both painful and necessary to continue your personal growth.

Some common dysfunctional life-rules

      • If I don’t succeed, I have not put in enough effort
      • If I express my needs, I am selfish
      • I must be strong, whatever it takes
      • If I have a lot going on, I am successful
      • If I say no, people will not trust me again
      • If I fail, they won’t respect me

I can certainly relate to many of these. Throughout my career in fast-paced consumer goods organizations, I was convinced that if I only worked harder and showed up stronger, I would climb faster than everyone else.

It worked well. Until I crashed spectacularly.

Today I am an Executive Coach, speaker and leadership consultant specialized in helping high performing individuals and teams find a more sustainable way to perform.  Many of my clients call themselves achievement addicts and want to learn how to be successful on their terms, go the distance and become more effective leaders. Without burning out in the process.

We start by taking a long, hard, and honest look at their life-rules.

Most life-rules are useful and help us make daily decisions without too much thought. However, when your core beliefs dictate your behaviors without flexibility, they are dysfunctional and can limit your growth and well-being.

The worst thing with toxic life-rules is that they appear to be truths – it’s just how the world works, right? Therefore, we are often not fully aware of them.

5 steps to challenge your life-rules

      1. Decide to challenge a life-rule in a small way. For example, choose to go for a walk instead of answering work emails tonight (Rule: If I don’t succeed, I will be criticized)
      2. If the feeling of discomfort creeps in, remind yourself that it is not bad or dangerous to feel uncomfortable, on the contrary, it means that you are challenging a rigid rule.
      3. Breathe, observe what is happening without judging (and keep your hands off those emails!). When the stress reaction goes away, you can focus on enjoying the walk.
      4. Write down: when does this life-rule serve you and when are you’re better off overruling it?
      5. Be thankful for the work you just did to build flexibility and resilience.

In short, dysfunctional life-rules can hinder your personal development, they are difficult to notice and can be unpleasant to break. These core beliefs are the root cause of many dysfunctional behaviors. By being aware of them, challenging them and analyzing your reaction, you can increase your resilience and grow into a better version of yourself.

Happy overruling!


The Worrying Problem Solver – (Over)achiever archetype 3

‘Spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions’

This achievement strategy is about never leaving anything unresolved. If you identify as worrying problem solver you often experience anxiety and negative stress when facing a challenging problem.

On top of the anxiety the issue with this approach is that it’s very ineffective. When the brain’s threat system is switched on you are unlikely to find constructive solutions.

The result is a behavior that is motivated by getting rid of discomfort. In the short term, it feels better to dwell on the problem than to leave it.

Drivers and Fears:
      • The dopamine kick of solving things.
      • Inability to deal with the discomfort of disappointment.
      • A tendency to catastrophize.
      • Fear of failure.
How to overcome:

1.Recognize the difference between worrying and productive problem solving. Here are some signs that you might be worrying:

      • You dismiss all your solutions as ineffective.
      • You are tense, distressed, and upset.
      • You spend a lot of time focusing on how things could go terribly wrong.

2. To get out of worrying-mode. Try taking some slow breaths from your diaphragm and relax. If that doesn’t help, take a break (go for a run, Clean the toilet). Come back to the problem when you’ve had a chance to settle down.

3. Put negative thoughts into a drawer. If you still find yourself slipping into negative thinking. Let the thoughts come, then mentally put them into a drawer, lock it and tell yourself you can open the draw again in an hour. In the meanwhile focus on positive ways to solve the problem.

Have you experienced periods of worrying and anxiety? What tips would you give to someone who is a worrying problem solver?

Next up: The Constant Achiever

© 2021 Emma Vallin. All rights reserved.

REFLEKTIONAD – Sista torsdagen i varje månad kl 08.30 Djurgårdsbron, Stockholm

Många av oss prioriterar bort just de aktiviteter som skyddar oss från negativ stress: 

      • Meningsfulla samtal IRL
      • Reflektionstid
      • Natur
      • Motion

Vi behöver ’reflektionera’ mera! 

Reflektion + Promenad = Reflektionad

Som Margaret Wheatley sa:

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

Sista torsdagen i varje månad pratpromenerar vi tillsammans

Vi möts klockan 8:30 vid Blå Porten nära Djurgårdsbron och promenerar, reflekter och delar förhoppningvis meningsfulla samtal.

Jag delar kort om en modell, ett verktyg eller forskning inom självledarskap. I par eller grupp om tre så promenerar och diskuterar vi (på säkert avstånd). Vi stannar halvvägs och delar våra insikter och tankar, jag ställer en ny fråga och vi byter promenadpartner. Vi är tillbaka senast kl 9:30 vid blå porten och du kan cykla hem eller ta dig vidare till en arbetsdag laddad med:

      • Nya perspektiv och insikter
      • Full av energi och inspiration
      • Nya intressanta kontakter
      • Tankar kring hus din kommande månad ska se ut
Boka en plats senast kl 12:00 dagen innan (formuläret nedan eller på kontakt@emmavallin.se / 0709195374

Deltagande är gratis men vi begränsar deltagandet till högst 10 personer av praktiska skäl.

Väl mött!

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6 (Over)Achievement Archetypes

Overachievers can accomplish great things but always need to do more. As they constantly raise the bar, the cost for reaching their goals eventually outweigh the rewards. Although overachievers tend to do well early on in their careers, at some point they start questioning the value of their constant hustle. In addition, research shows that achievement-orientation significantly increases the risk of burnout*.

Learning how to achieve sustainably is not only critical to our performance and well-being but affects the people we work with as well.

Overachievement Archetypes. © 2021 Emma Vallin. All rights reserved.

In a series of posts, I will discuss six achievement archetypes or patterns, identified through years of coaching high achievers and from my own ‘achievement detox’.

Which archetype (if any) do you most identify with?
      • THE COMPARISON JUNKIE. Lives by the motto: ‘Grass is always greener…’
      • THE CONTROLLER. ‘If you want a thing done well, do it yourself’
      • THE PERFECTIONST.  ‘Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing’
      • THE COMPETITOR. ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing’
      • THE CONTANT ACHIEVER. ‘I will rest when I’m dead’
      • THE WORRYING PROBLEMSOLVER. ‘Spend 55 min worrying about the problem and 5 min thinking about solutions’

I will share the drivers and fears behind each archetypes and would love to discuss what strategies you use to balancing them out.

I would love to have your input and hear your reflections on this topic!

Importantly, it’s NOT about giving up on being a high achiever, it’s about developing a dimmer to your superpower so that you can achieve sustainably, on your terms.

I use this framework a lot in my Achievement Detox Coaching Program and  when coaching business leaders. I find it very useful for identifying underlying fears and drivers and changing negative behaviors.

Happy reading!

*Canadian Journal of Nursing 2019, Vulnerability and Stressors for Burnout

Nervöst och skitskoj genrep av min föreläsning

Ett gäng grymma vänner och skarpa kritiker var med på genrepet av min föreläsning Prestationsdetox igår! Förutom några mindre utmaningar med tekniken så gick det kanonbra. Nästa vecka är det skarpt läge med en större grupp. Hoppas på bättre sammarbete med MicrosoftTeams då.

Är du eller ditt företag intresserade av prestationsmönster och vill ha inspiration till att skapa en hållbar arbetsmiljö? Boka in en föreläsning, workshop eller ett frukostseminarium med mig!

Jag utlovar intressanta diskussioner, insikter kring ett viktigt ämne och några goda skratt 🙂

Är mobilfritt den nya utlandsresan? 

Det har blivit en statusgrej att lämna mobilen hemma under semestern. Det låter ju vettigt med tanke på att mobilen stör oss i snitt 150 gånger per dag. Det blir inte så mycket semester kvar då tänker jag. 

Det roliga och smått tragiska är att mobil-detoxen ofta föregås av en Instagramstorm av uppdatering kring just denna paus från mobilen. Helst ska man också visa upp sin nyinköpta 90-tals dumtelefon som endast går att ringa med.

Tänk, i framtiden kanske vi kan lägga undan mobilen utan att först jaga likes på just de sociala medier vi vill undvika.

Trendigt eller ej, lägg undan telefonen på semestern! För som Benjamin Franklin sa: Lost time is never found again

Konsten att sluta stressa

Det ligger mycket i det engelska uttrycket ’stop and smell the roses’. Lägga märke till och njuta av det enkla och vackra i livet. Men för att kunna stanna upp och lukta på blommorna måste du plantera och vårda dem – medvetet styra ditt liv. Det kan kännas omöjligt i en stressig vardag.

Hur gör man då för att bryta den negativa stressen?

Vi vet att duktiga, drivna och självkritiska personer ligger i riskzon. Men att döda sin ambition är svårt. Att rikta om den däremot, sätta nya mål, kan vara livs-förändrande. Använd just den där drivkraften och din prestationspersonlighet till att formulera och uppnå nya mål. Må-bra-mål. Det kan vara att gapskratta varje dag, träffa en ny inspirerande människa per månad eller meditera en gång i veckan.

Jobbiga och oförutsedda händelser kan man inte vaccinera sig mot. Däremot kan du styra hur du hanterar motgångar. Välj att vara snäll mot dig själv. Prova att se motgångar som gödsel till dina rosor. Inget bajs, ingen personlig utveckling 🙂

Att sluta leva ett stressigt liv kan vara lika svårt som att bli skuldfri eller bli av med ett beroende. Det kräver medvetna handlingar och ibland att man tar hjälp. Hint hint, boka in mig som coach.

5 tips för att överleva slutet på semestern

Starten på vardagen och hösten kan kännas ångestfylld och jobbig för många. Vi hade det ju så skönt under semestern utan måsten och regler. När vi är tillbaka i rutinerna fokuserar vi istället på vad vi måste hinna med, vad vi ska göra om ett par timmar och hur veckoplaneringen ser ut. Här kommer några tips för att istället göra hösten till den där sköna, produktiva nystarten du behöver istället. Och tänk vad skönt det är att få dra på sig en varm tröja och tända ljus efter en varm sommar.

  1. Boka in höstroliga saker

När ledigheten är över kan det kännas som en evighet till nästa semester. Se till att du har roliga aktiviteter inbokade i höst. Kanske en weekendresa, en utställning eller varför inte en middag med en nära vän? Att ha många små saker att se fram emot gör att den mörka och kalla perioden inte känns lika jobbig.

  1. Lapa i dig solljus

Se till att ladda upp med så mycket naturligt D-vitamin som möjligt. Var utomhus när du kan – cykla till jobbet eller gå en promenad på lunchen när solen fortfarande skiner.

  1. Säg ’det-löser-sig’ i vardagen

En stor fördel med sommaren och semestern är att vi har färre måsten och ofta anammar en softare, härligare attityd. Gör en deal med dig själv att säga ’det löser sig’ oftare i vardagen. Vad gör det om 100 år om ni är 10 minuter sena eller har tandkräm på tröjan till jobbet. 

  1. Gör en livs-kick-off

Vad ser du fram emot den här hösten? Vilka utmaningar har du? Vad ska vara dina prioriteringar? Livet är viktigare än jobbet ändå tar vi inte lägger vi inte en bråkdel hälften så mycket tid på att tänka igenom och planera vårt privatliv. Ta med en picknic korg till din favoritklippa eller sätt dig på ett mysigt kafé och tänk igenom hur du får

  1. Schemalägg luft i agendan

Vi vet att återhämtning och egentid är viktigt. Allt jobbrelaterat som vi anser viktigt (och oviktiga också) är vi
supersnabba med att skriva in i Outlookkalender.  Varför inte blocka tid för en lunchpromenad eller manikyr i jobbveckan?


Vara normal eller sig själv?

I en vardag där vi oftast visar upp ett polerat, normalt och lyckat liv och konstant ser andras lika härliga liv i våra flöden, riskerar vi att glömma av vilka vi egentligen är.

Kommer styrkan att våga vara annorlunda med åren? Utvecklas viljan att vara originell, att gå sin egen väg med tiden och olika erfarenheter? Eller krävs det självkänsla från barndomen?

Och om vi konstant jämför oss med andra, vattnas då våra vårt sköna, knasiga, fantastiska personligheter ut?

Världen blir tråkigare, mindre kreativ och, vågar jag säga; sämre, ju mer normala vi försöker vara.

Var sitter våra knappar?

Varför berörs vi oproportionerligt mycket av vissa händelser? Vad upplever vi som kränkande (inte bara Insta-kränkande)?

För ett tag sedan berättade en vän att han sagt upp sig från sin arbetsplats på grund av fiffel i ledningen. Han fick jobb i en liknande organisation och anklagades orättvist för att ha stulit affärshemligheter. Hans värld föll samman och han har fortfarande inte återhämtat sig.

Hur kommer det sig att han påverkades så starkt av en situation som en annan person mest blivit förbannad över eller till och med kunnat skrattat åt över tid?

Igår blev jag påmind om en liknande erfarenhet jag haft. När jag fick en ny chef och var sjukskriven för utmattning så hotade min arbetsgivare med att omplacera mig på grund av bristande prestation. Detta sex månader efter att jag utsett mig till top talent. En Kafka-liknande process inleddes där ingen hänsyn togs till de rådande omständigheterna. Genom facket fick jag rätt men jag mår fortfarande mycket dåligt när jag tänker på det.

Varför kan jag inte komma över det som hänt och följa min sambos råd; tänk på att det är en sjuk organisation och en galen chef du råkade ut för.

Min vän utmärker sig för sin starka rättskänsla och värderar integritet högt. När just dessa värderingar ifrågasattes, om än på falska grunder så skakades hela hans värld.

På samma sätt har jag förstått att en av mina fundamentala värderingar är prestation. Jag har så länge jag minns velat prestera, det är den jag är. Även om jag vet att jag inte gjort något fel så dog en liten del av mig. Precis som i min väns fall så tryckte min arbetsgivare på fel (eller rätt) knapp. En grundvärderingar rubbades.

En av de mäktigaste övningarna jag gör med min klienter är att just kartlägga grundvärderingar.

När du vet var dina knappar sitter kan du välja vem som får trycka på dem, när och hur.

Graviditet – jämförelsehetsens drivbänk?

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Varför blir jag ledsen över att min mage är störst på gravidyogan?

Kommer småbarnsåren att få den gamla prestationsångesten att blossa upp igen?

Varför är det fult att ha entreprenörsplaner under föräldraledigheten?

Hur undviker jag att fastna i bebispryl-fällan?

Jag är gravid med första barnet och det har satt igång en massa tankar kring jämförelse, normer och stress. Aldrig verkar lockelsen att döma sig själv och andra vara så stor som under graviditeten och småbarnsåren. Hur kommer det bli för mig?

Den här bloggen blir ett experiment. Jag vill använda den för reflektion kring jämförelsehets i samhället och normer och stress kring föräldraskap i synnerhet. Jag kommer skriva om graviditetsnojor, mammakroppen och föräldraskap, men också kring att starta eget under småbarnsåren och prestationsångest. Förhoppningsvis lär jag mig massor som jag kan använda i min roll som coach.

Kanske blir bloggen mitt vaccin mot mammastress? Eller helt enkelt gödsel i jämförelsehetsens drivbänk.

Vi får se.

<a href=”http://www.gravidbloggar.se” title=”Gravidbloggar, bloggar om barn och graviditet”>Gravidbloggar, bloggar om barn och graviditet</a>