Sunday, December 21, 2008


I was in the gym earlier this week, doing my walk/run on the treadmill. On treadmills to my right were a couple of people who worked in different parts of the same organization that has recently been laying people off. They were commiserating about the state of affairs at their work place and the person nearest to me uttered the line, “You start your day off stressed and it just gets worse from there.” His co-worker grimly laughed in acknowledgement.

Upon hearing this, I immediately thought about how difficult things must be for these two, and the thousands of others who are in similar circumstances. It feels like there is no end to the downsizings and layoffs and yet for those who remain, the work load just grows. I hear more and more people actually wishing for pink slips because the thought of doing the work of their former co-workers is more daunting and stress inducing than the idea of being unemployed with some severance and unemployment benefits.

I recognize that these are challenging times and that many people feel damned if they do get laid off and damned if they don’t. That sense of being backed into a corner just adds to the stress that’s created by our actual circumstances. To make matters worse, the decisions made by others to keep us employed or let is go only makes us more stressed.

In spite of this complexity, there is a way out. In simple terms it is this: Put your focus on what you have control over and let go of the rest. Yes, your work load is growing because there are fewer of you to do the same amount of work. Yes, you may be targeted in that next round of layoffs. And, yes, it is a very difficult time to be in a job or career transition. Inside each of those situations, there are some things in your control and some not. My advice is to put your attention on the former and do your best to let go of the rest.

You can begin by getting clear about those things over which you have control. This boils down to two basic ideas. The first is recognizing that you have a choice about how you see things, and though it may feel trite, your attitude determines to a great extent how stressed you’ll get by actual circumstances. Secondly, you need to realize that you can manage the unmanageable to-do list. This happens by taking time at the beginning of each work day to prioritize your list (getting help from others, as needed), and then taking on each of those tasks, doing the best on each one with the time and resources you have. Regardless of how far you get, you need to then take a brief time to acknowledge yourself for what you did accomplish and then go home and forget about work until the next day.

If you can develop both a positive mind set and an effective method for completing most of your tasks, you’ll find your stress will not only be much more manageable, but you’ll also find yourself, almost paradoxically, being more productive and much happier about your work and life along the way.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman