Friday, May 18, 2012

Finding Peace in the Chaos

The last couple of weeks at work have been insanely busy, and sometimes stressful, hence the neglected blog. The sad thing is that I am entirely to blame for my work life going from a manageable 40 hours a week to a hectic 45+. And I really miss those five extra hours or more of my free time.

What happened? Well, I accepted a temporary position doing the job a level above addition to keeping my own full-time job. How is this possible, you might be wondering, for the blogger who wrote this post about being satisfied not climbing the career ladder and in fact wants to work less? It's a question I've been asking myself ever since.

I guess I was flattered that out of several people, I was asked first to take over a fairly critical function for the next several months. It would also give me a chance to see what having this position would really be like, as well as what working in our parent organization would feel like. And the work is more interesting than what I'm dealing with in my regular job right now, but like I mentioned I have to do that too. But the whole situation is also one big unorganized mess.

I considered this carefully before saying yes, talked to a lot of people I trust, then eventually decided to take the plunge. And ever since I've been scrambling to keep my head above water and trying not to panic.

At first I was fine working the nine and ten hour action packed days. I think I was feeding off of adrenaline. But that has worn off and I'm already getting tired after just a few weeks, so how will I stand it for a few more months? I started feeling pretty sorry for myself around mid-week, but last night I decided that I got myself into this mess and now I have to deal with it. I can't wish my way out of this one. And you know what? That mind set plus a few other tricks seem to be working.

Here's how I plan to survive the chaos:
  1. Take Breaks - Wednesday night I came home weary and frazzled. While the boyfriend made dinner, I stayed outside to plant and weed in the garden. I was probably only gardening for around 30 minutes, but it completely refreshed me. So whether you recharge by spending time outside, reading, watching your favorite movie, taking a long bath, etc., make time to do that. You need it!
  2. Less venting, more action - I'm a venter. Wait, I'm not sure if that's a real word, and Blogger doesn't seem to think so, but you get the idea. After I get my feelings out I usually feel better, but in this situation I kept venting to everyone I saw which was cutting into my work time. Today I resolved to buckle down and get busy, absolutely no venting allowed. I was able to get things done and cross them off my to-do list, which made me feel better than venting ever could.
  3. Write it down - There is something about writing my feelings down in my journal that makes me feel instantly better. Just thinking the thoughts does not have the same effect. Plus journaling instead of venting to someone spares some poor soul another of my tirades.
  4. Let some things go. I'm sure we all have work tasks that are nice-to-do but not absolutely critical. When time is short and stress is high, you may have to let some of the less-critical stuff go. This is hard for the perfectionist in me.
  5. Wait, then assess - I have a tendency to freak out first, then reason later. So it's better for me to wait before talking to anyone who can really help with these issues. I'm giving myself two weeks to get the lay of the land before I assess whether another plan is needed to get the job done while retaining my sanity.
  6. If all else fails, cry uncle - I used to think my previous bosses would see when there was a major work problem that was affecting me, but now I know better. I know no one in charge is going to automatically see that I'm overworked, if I can't handle the workload, I'll have to speak up. Because the one thing I'm not willing to do is to spend my entire summer working all the time.
Do you have any tips to add? How do you handle being overwhelmed at work?


  1. Oh Candi, You have my deepest sympathies on the work thing. It's been a few years, but I certainly remember what it was like living in the land of the overworked. Here are a few things that helped me...

    1. Be "all business". I think one of my biggest problems at work was that I really liked the people I worked with. This meant that I'd spend hours "chatting" with co-workers rather than getting things done! I finally had to just corral myself in my office with the door closed and a note on it asking people not to knock unless they had a work concern that couldn't wait.

    2. Minimize interruptions. This one was a challenge for me, but I had to train myself only to check emails a few times a day rather than just leaving Outlook open all the time. This REALLY helped me to be more productive because I wasn't constantly having to do a mental reset every time I got interrupted by some new email coming in the door. The same principle holds for phone calls and texts. I discovered that it was actually much more efficient to let the machine take most of my calls and then I could either get the required info from the message or call the person back when I could focus on whatever it was that they needed.

    3. Teach them to fish. Not sure if your position lends itself to this or not, but one of the things that made my life difficult at work what that people always seemed to need me to solve this or that technical problem for them. I finally figured out that if I invested a bit of time upfront by teaching people how things worked and giving them step by step instructions on how to solve common problems, it both made them feel more empowered and saved me LOADS of time.

    4. Delegate, delegate, delegate! This is another one that may or may not apply depending on your situation, but I found that the more responsibilities I took on, the more critical it was to be able to delegate certain tasks to other people. At first I felt really guilty about doing this... like I was somehow "dumping" work on other people, but I discovered that if I did it right it actually made people feel better about their jobs, because they were more invested in the big picture rather than just feeling like a menial laborer. Just an example... as the director of the music school, one of my jobs was to coordinate student recitals and social gatherings. These were important community events, but took a LOT of time to coordinate. I ended up delegating this stuff to the "customer service" crew who worked in direct contact with the teachers and students. They actually totally LOVED the opportunity to participate in some of the "fun stuff" rather than just dealing with schedules and bills all day long, and it turned out that they did it much better and more efficiently than I could, because they were in constant contact with the students & teachers.

    5. Write it down instead of fretting over it. I'm not talking about venting here, I mean that when your brain goes off into the land of "OMG I have to remember to do xyz" it's soooo much better to just write that thought down & forget about it, rather than mulling it over in your brain. At one point I even kept a pen and paper next to my bed so that if stray work related thoughts were keeping me from sleeping, I could just write them down and forget about them rather than lying there worrying about them.

    That's about all I can think of at the moment... hope something in there is a little bit helpful. Hang in there!


    1. Cat, thanks for the tips! Writing the to-do list down and being able to scratch things off is helpful. And I could be more all-business. Sadly, there aren't many people I can offload things on, which is part of the issue.

      The biggest change seems to be my mindset. If I fret over how much there is to do and why I'm the one stuck with so much work (cause I'm the idiot who agreed to it!) then I feel worse. But if I focus on solutions for managing things and making the best of it things don't seem as dire.

  2. I think you nailed it with your above list. Oh yes, lists always help. You know, write out your to-do list with manage-able action items. I would also let other things slide like get take-out if needed, while you get used to the new workload.

    1. Luckily the boyfriend is picking up my slack on the homefront, which is a big help!

  3. I'm realizing now that it helps me to plan a vacation or mini get-away at the end of a really stressful time at work. It may be a week's vacation or just an afternoon off work to get my hair cut and brows done or to sit by the pool. But knowing that there's a light at the end of the tunnel helps me a lot.

    Great post!

    1. Good tip, A-H. I'm not planning to go anywhere, but having a four-day weekend coming up is helping a lot. This week anyway.


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