May 11, 2011
Stressed and proud? You're not impressing anyone
You know the type: The co-worker who darts around the office like a headless chicken, telling everyone within earshot how crazy-busy they are. (Note: If your co-workers always seem to disappear from their desks before you reach them, you probably are the type.)
[Image by Greg Westfall]
Not only do these stress junkies have a hard time recognizing when their plate is full, they never met a menial task they couldn't somehow turn into a five-alarm fire. But for all their efforts, whether they actually accomplish more than the rest of the office is anybody's guess.
The self-employed world is not immune to these stress addicts either. (Take it from one in recovery.) At least once a day I see a fellow freelancer or small business owner with a Facebook status like this:
Need a clone! On today's docket: Four conference calls, two deadlines, and a proposal for a potential new client -- and that's just before lunch, not that I've had time to take lunch since 2007. Looks like it's going to be another 12-hour workday. Trying to remember how to breathe.
A new Women's Health article posits that for some, being grossly overscheduled is not only addictive, it's a badge of honor. Although the article discusses how many women mistakenly believe that "stress is synonymous with success" and "if you're not totally fried, you may not be doing enough," women aren't the only ones who max themselves out -- mentally, physically, and emotionally -- by taking on too much at work. I've known just as many men who fit the bill; I'm sure you do too.
Obviously, this is faulty thinking. As the Women's Health piece states:
It turns out that all that ill-advised, frenzied one-upmanship -- especially in the workplace -- might be futile: The number one reason employees go on disability leave? You guessed it: Stress.
In addition to recommending workers nix all non-essential tasks from their to-do list (duh), the magazine offers two fantastic suggestions:
Don't gloat. Stop bragging about how stressed and busy you are. It's not impressive. Instead, you're likely to repel those who've found better ways to cope with their own taxing schedule. Exude too much frenetic energy at work and you risk looking like someone who simply can't handle the pressures of the job.
Don't enable. The next time a friend or colleague boasts about their bloated workload, resist the urge to reply with, "I know. You should see what I have on my plate today. Seven meetings, a presentation I need to finish for next week, and a report due to the boss by tomorrow morning. It's madness." Instead of playing the one-up game, say something like, "Wow, sounds like a hectic week for you. Any plans to relax after work tonight or this coming weekend?" In other words, encourage your pal or co-worker to chill the heck out.
To those suggestions, I'll add two of my own:
Step away from the computer. You've been cranking away on that TPS report for the past two hours and could use a quick break. Although it's tempting to while away the time on Twitter or your favorite celebrity blog, a smarter bet is to get up from your desk and stretch your legs. Besides being infinitely better for your health, taking a stroll down the hall is much more rejuvenating than continuing to stare at your computer screen.
Track your time. Last year, I interviewed Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, about how to squeeze more minutes from the day. Her top suggestion: Track every activity for a week and see where your biggest timesucks are. If you're "stuck at the office" till 7 each night but spending 90 minutes a day "taking a break" on Facebook, maybe it's time to rethink your definition of busy.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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