When working conditions degrade gradually enough, we tolerate them even though they're intolerable. The cost is chronic high-intensity stress. We become short with each other. We hurt each other. Productivity falls. Quality degrades. Worst of all, we take our troubles home, which can spread the misery and which limits our ability to recharge and repair.
To regain control, we must recognize the indicators of chronic high-intensity stress. Here's a little catalog.
You might be stressed if…
- …someone asks you for comfort about being stressed, and you blow your top.
- …you add to your to-do list stuff you've already done, just for that feeling of accomplishment when you check it off.
- …you suddenly realize that although your desk is usually neat, it's been an unholy mess for three weeks and you never noticed.
- …you suddenly realize that although you usually don't mind a messy desk, you now feel an overwhelming compulsion to clean it up.
- …you suddenly realize that 40% of what you've eaten today contains some form of chocolate.
- …you no longer feel the effects of consuming two espressos before 8 AM.
- …you take a ten-minute break to relax, but after minute three, all you can think about is whatever you were taking a break from.
- …sleep mostly consists of waiting to get up until some hour that you think most people would consider reasonable.
- …you believe that even if you nod off in a meeting, nobody notices, because you do it cleverly.
- …things that used to be only mildly annoying are now unbearable.
- …things that used to be unbearable are only mildly annoying compared to the really idiotic stuff that's happening now.
- …everyone around you seems totally stressed, but you think you're absolutely fine.
- …everyone around you seems calm, but you think it's because they haven't yet grasped the reality of the situation.
- …you thought you were decisive before, but now you're making decisions before you realize you've made them.
- …when you have to decide something, all you can do is dither about it endlessly.
- …you feel an irresistible urge to make decisions that aren't yours to make.
- …after you arrive You might be stressed if
you feel an irresistible
urge to make decisions
that aren't yours to makewherever you were going, you can't remember why you went there.
- …even though you're not a VIP, the conference room goes all quiet the moment you enter.
- …it isn't just that you couldn't keep the thread of what she was saying, it's that you couldn't keep the thread of what you were thinking.
- …you bite someone's head off over something they had nothing to do with.
- …two hours late, you realize you missed lunch.
- …two hours to go, and all you can think about is lunch.
- ..you've finally figured out how the whole thing fits into a nice, neat pattern.
- …you believe that you could actually save the company if only they would do it your way.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- Working Journals
- Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did,
and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw.
And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- False Summits: II
- When climbers encounter "false summits," hope of an early end to the climb comes to an end.
The psychological effects can threaten the morale and even the safety of the climbing party. So it is
in project work.
- Entry Intimidation
- Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant
and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion,
bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.