Things have been going too well lately. Work has been too smooth. Your relationships with others have been too pleasant. Where’s the stress? The drama? The overwhelm? You decide to make a change.
The following afternoon you find yourself before your boss. A vast white desk sits between you and her. Her office is nice. Not how you would have set it up, but nice. The ceiling lights are off. She prefers to have the natural light from the adjacent window fill the room. She smiles at you. You smile in return. She’s spent the last 20 minutes praising you for your efforts. Noting how you’ve “really stepped it up lately.” How she “appreciates everything you do.” This is exactly what I’m talking about, you think to yourself. Where’s the strife?
And then your moment arrives. She assigns you a new project. Something “significantly more time-intensive than you’re used to.” Tell me about it. Where your normal assignments span weeks, this will span months. You’ll have an entire team reporting to you. And if all goes well, you’ll be well on your way to climbing that next rung. She urges you “not to worry about the pressures or responsibilities.” She knows you’ll do a great job. Finally! A chance to add a little fatigue to my life!
Get to work
You sit at your desk. Emails flood in. It’s your new team members introducing themselves, catching you up on the groundwork they’ve laid thus far. You get through it all in a few minutes. It’s still too easy! But you know just what to do. Time to add some pain to the mix. First, you schedule a whole slew of meetings. Short meetings, long meetings, useful meetings, pointless meetings. Meetings for today and meetings for three months from now. You fill your calendar to the brim. You make sure you have as little time to actually do your work as possible.
Next, you make yourself widely accessible. You turn off the silence on your phone. You crank the volume all the way up. And most importantly, you turn all your notifications on. Not just work-related ones though. That would be too simple. No, no. You turn them all on. From Audible to Yelp, your phone is a constant stream of bings and boops.
It’s still not enough though. You aren’t feeling the overwhelm you so desire. You decide to take it up a notch.
Speaking of Yelp, you open the app and pick a contractor at random. You skip the due diligence and hire them sight unseen. They’ll do more than you could have hoped. You brought them on to redo your cabinets, but they wrote the wrong thing down. Instead, they’ll rip up your floors. You’ll spend hours trying to get ahold of their boss, several more hours finding a new contractor, and still more picking out cabinets and new floors. You will be pulled in every direction. Your work will suffer.
The cherry on top
You do a great job stressing yourself out, but you still feel that you could pile on more. And then it hits you. The final piece of the puzzle. You realize why you are so good at what you do. Rather than worrying about the big picture, you tackle your projects in one manageable bite after another. Not only does it help you and your team focus, it also prevents that looming feeling of overwhelm. You smile to yourself. You’ve cracked the code.
You call a meeting. You have to cancel a different one to make room for it.
The team floods into the conference room. You stand at the front. A PowerPoint presentation is on the screen behind you. And this is where you really start to shine. Normally you wouldn’t go through the effort of creating a presentation. You wouldn’t waste your teams’ time. Instead of weighing them down with the full scope, you’d delegate to them exactly what they need to do and nothing more. You’d assign them deadlines you both agree on. You’d give them room to do the job as they see fit. But that’s not how you’re doing things any longer. That was too easy.
You click the spacebar and the first slide appears. The title: Everything We Need To Do. In small print below is a bulleted list. Each point contains a long run-on sentence. It contains superfluous words. And better still, it touches on every single aspect of the project. From beginning to end. You had a panic attack merely creating the PowerPoint. You can’t wait to see how your team takes it. They don’t take it well. Halfway through your talk, one of them leaves the room. Turns out they quit. Perfect! Now we’ll be short-staffed!
You sit at your desk once again. You review the slides, trying to determine what your first move should be. It’s hard to tell. There are so many options, so many things to do. You begin to cry. Overwhelm washes over you. Stress sits on your chest. Passerbys look at you with concern on their face.
Your phone rings. You answer. It’s the contractor. They’ve pulled out the sink. They ask when the new one will arrive. You tell them the sink is perfectly fine. That it’s the cabinets and floors that need fixing. They’re silent for a few moments. Breaking the silence, they say that’s unfortunate. They seemed to have written the wrong thing down. Either way, your sink is sinkless and the sink you had is all banged up from the demo crew.
You hang up. Your shoulders feel heavy. Tears visibly roll down your cheeks. You run your hand through your hair. Several curls fall to your desk. They no longer want to be attached to you. Your breath quickens. Panic sets in. Finally! This is all I’ve ever wanted!
If you prefer things to be easy, do the opposite of everything detailed in this article. Turn off your notifications. Silence your phone. Clear your schedule or, at the least, significantly pare it down. Share when you are and aren’t available to talk. Enforce that policy.
Focus on the next best step in front of you. Keep a rough idea of the finished project, but don’t concern yourself with it. It will change by the time you get there. Oh and please, please, please, don’t schedule a home remodel during that period. Don’t hire someone without verifying their competence first. And certainly don’t volunteer for any up and extras until the project is done.