Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Destressing at Work

I don’t want to sound any more churlish than usual, but when Jan Bruce says that stress is all in your mind, she is misrepresenting her own point of view.

After saying that it’s all in your mind, she goes on to explain that you can destress by breaking the bad habits that are causing you undue stress. In truth, bad habits are not in your mind. They are in your behavior. You do not need to understand why you are doing them in order to change them.

Bruce’s first bad habit will resonate for many people: feeling obliged to respond immediately to phone calls and text messages.

In her words:

Just because you have your phone with you doesn’t mean you have to answer it: Answering your phone when it rings – at dinner, at home, at the gym – doesn’t make you a worthy or responsible professional; it alone won’t determine your worth and value. Resist the tide and instead of interrupting your meal, give yourself some work-free time and give your client a call back. Later.

Actually, answering the phone every time it rings makes you a marionette. It shows that you lack free will. It says that you do not have the power to decide whether to take or not to take the call.

Surely, it’s a very bad habit, one that should not be too difficult to overcome. Think of it as a way to regain a measure of your freedom. You don’t even have to await the verdict of Congress or the courts to do so. It’s in your hands, literally.

Or else, try this: the next time you are having dinner with friends, how about turning off the phone. You will be striking a blow for conversation in a world where it has become all too common to see groups of people at a dinner table, ignoring each other while absorbed in their cell phones.

Bruce’s second bad habit involves the sense of being irreplaceable:

But while your contributions and presence at your job are no doubt critical, the idea that nothing can’t function without you may not be true, and can do more damage than good. In the worst case, this idea keeps you from taking vacation, period. If in fact your office or team can’t function without you, that may seem as if you’re invaluable, but what it means is that you haven’t empowered others around you to do what they need to do to keep things moving.

At the risk of again appearing churlish, doesn’t Forbes edit anymore? How did an editor allow this phrase-- “the idea that nothing can’t function without you”-- to make its way into a published article.

Be that as it may, her point is well taken. If your executive presence is so important that your company or department cannot run without you, you have not been doing your job. More precisely, you have not delegated tasks. You have not granted to others the discretion to do their jobs as they see fit. You have been too meddlesome and too intrusive and too much of a micromanager.

How do you overcome your poor management skills? Bruce does not say and the answer is not self-evident. Neither the problem nor the solution is all in your mind.

Obviously, when you go away on vacation, authorize someone to take charge in your name. Tell him or her to call you only in the case of extreme emergency. Do not call into the office. Repeat: do not call into the office. Do not send emails or text messages. Do not expect daily or hourly reports. Observe radio silence.

If you consider yourself to be irreplaceable, you will need to do much more than this. After all, everyone who works for you is used to having you micromanage everything. They have developed the bad habit of not taking initiatives themselves. It’s not just your own bad habit you have to break.

Radio silence might be a good place to start, but it is only a start.

Finally, Bruce identifies another bad habit. People blow off meetings and appointments, and even lesser duties like school plays because they tell themselves that they don’t have time.

She describes the condition:

The “busy” excuse works for almost anything—avoiding meetings and lunches, parties you don’t want to attend, projects that don’t appeal. But while you’re unquestionably busy, time is relative. Meaning: When you say you don’t have time for something, you’re saying it’s not a priority.

Unfortunately, you are saying more than that.

First, you are saying that you have a good excuse for every manner of dereliction. If you have made a commitment, honor it. Do not use a cheap excuse to toss aside a moral obligation.

Second, this means that you need to schedule your time better. Bruce does not quite mention this, but you need to set an agenda and follow it as though it were holy writ.

Third, you should not make busyness a transcendent value. Being busy doing nothing or being busy doing less crucial activities does not mean that you are important. It means that you are trying to tell yourself how important you are by going through the motions.

Important people are often very busy. But they never use busyness as an excuse.

1 comment:

Sam L. said...

"Important people are often very busy." Especially self-important people.