5 Habits of Highly Stressed Professionals

We’ve all heard of “spring cleaning”. It’s a time we brave the cobwebs of our closets and finally give away those “if I just lose 15 pounds I can wear them again pants” that have been sitting nicely folded for the past 4 years. It’s the time we rake away the winter blah from our yards. It’s the time we finally throw out that bottle of aspirin that expired 7 years ago.

   This year I decided to forgo the traditional spring cleaning and opted for a more impactful exercise.  Instead of fighting with dust bunnies, I’m doing an assessment of my assumptions about business productivity. After 17 years of working in high-growth, B2B technology companies I’ve accumulated quite a few beliefs about how best to reach aggressive goals. In the honor of spring I’m challenging those beliefs both by experimentation on myself, and by reading about the evolution of the 40 hour work week.

One article I found particularly inspiring was this history of the 40-hour work week, and how it has impacted our productivity. It’s worth a read if you get the chance. http://www.alternet.org/visions/154518/why_we_have_to_go_back_to_a_40-hour_work_week_to_keep_our_sanity/?page=entire

In honor of Spring cleaning here are 5 habits of highly stressed professionals we should all clean out of our work life. Go ahead, keep the too small pants.

1. Meeting overload –  Meetings can be important information gathering, consensus building, brainstorming tools. But let’s face facts, most meetings are less than inspired. When you find yourself having to “schedule” a bathroom break for the third day in a row, you’ve gone too far! Instead put meetings in their place. I like to ensure meeting don’t take up more than 40% of my work day.

2. Vampire hours – Admit it, you’ve left the house in the dark to prep for your 7:30 management call, sat at your desk preparing the latest reports, scarfed down half a left-over sandwich someone left in the kitchen at your desk, and wrapped up the day by entering long-overdue expense reports. When you head home — it’s dark! After a week of this even you are starting to think you might be a Vampire avoiding day light. We all have periods in our career when long hours are necessary, and perhaps even enjoyable, but keeping yourself captive to the dark isn’t doing anyone favors. Don’t forget to get up and stretch, take a 10 minute walk, hit the office gym for some stretches — and if you can’t do that — at least look longingly out the window and remind yourself “daylight is good”.

3. Hiding from help – It’s a terrible  human flaw but the more stressed we become, the more we put pressure on ourselves. Stressed out professionals see asking for help as a sign of weakness.  Instead we work longer hours, we skip lunch and we block off our calendars to avoid distractions. Being a type A personality I sympathize with the sentiment no one can do this your job as well as you can. But let’s be honest, this is rarely true. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it demonstrates your ability to rally the troops. So stop hiding behind busy, get out there and get some help.

4. Overpromising – In an effort to impress your boss, secure a bigger bonus or simply get bragging rights in front of your buddies,  stressed out professionals overpromise.  You are asked to bring on board 5 new partners, instead of going for 5, you promise 10.  Or maybe you’re asked to generate 250 marketing leads at the latest trade show, but instead you set a goal of 500.  Challenging yourself is a good thing and I’d never discourage anyone from stretching, but challenging yourself is the key. It’s better to over deliver, then overpromise.

5. Forgetting to celebrate – Whomever said working hard is itself a reward has never raised children or lead a team. Yes, working hard can feel good; but it only motivates us when we take time to celebrate success. We have a rule in my house – no one is EVER too busy for a hug. No matter what bills are waiting to get paid, how many phone calls need to be returned, or how big the pile of laundry is waiting to get folded. We can always take a few seconds for a hug. It should go without saying, but I will anyway, don’t implement the hug rule at work. But you can implement a pause policy. After all the hug isn’t about embracing – it’s about connecting with another person with all of your attention.  No matter how busy things seem take time to celebrate success, even the small ones.

From my own experiences I’ve come to believe that feeling passionate about your work is instrumental to a happy and productive career. When this passion translates into working long hours for short durations of time it can be a good, momentum building experience. The problem arises when we get lost in draining schedules for an extended period of time.  Is 40-hours the right balance? I’m not sure, but I do know that sustaining 65+hour work week’s for a long period of time has a negative impact on your processing capabilities, creativity and efficiency.

So if you’re going to do some spring cleaning — don’t forget to clean out those bad work habits.