21 Tips for Managing the Stress of Success

21 Tips for Managing the Stress of Success

W e tend to think of success as a kind of salve for our problems, not a cause.

In fact, it seems self-indulgent or selfish to even talk about it. When I asked on Facebook for tips for managing the stress of success, one friend said, “If I had that kind of stress, I’d be counting my blessings.”

And that’s what makes us so dramatically unprepared for the stress of success when it happens.

Even worse, that stress undermines the very feeling of success we were after. We assume the stress means something is wrong, with us, our choices, with life.

Probably the best description of this feeling is Ze Frank’s brilliant video on the “supposed to be’s,” where you feel anxious that you’re anxious or disappointed that you’re vaguely disappointed in the success you worked so hard to achieve. Or as he put it, “to think that feeling bad is the same thing as moving backwards.”

Seriously, who among us overachievers hasn’t felt that way more than once?

Now that we’ve agreed that the stress of success isn’t frivolous, we can get on with the 21 tips to help cure what ails you. (more…)

The Workaholic’s Vacation: 10 Tips to Really Relax

Is it just me, or is the usual summer vacation a bit counter-productive?

Yes, there’s a certain romanticism to chipping away at your list of the 936 World Heritage Sites.

Yes, there’s a duty to socialize with the family and friends who otherwise haven’t heard from you since their Christmas card of acknowledgement.

Yes, it’s fun to regale colleagues with your adventures upon return, delaying for another twenty minutes (or sixty) the work you were so desperate to escape in the first place.

But over time, you have to admit your vacation fails to do the one thing it was designed for: to help you relax.

I get it.  I have the habit of returning from most of my vacations early, even my honeymoon.

The problem isn’t that I didn’t enjoy my 10 minute camel ride in Giza, complete with picture-taking opportunities in front of the pyramids.  My travel companions aren’t bores (I love you, honey!).  But I eventually realized three important things:

  • 5 continents and 17 World Heritage sites later, and that gnawing feeling that I’m not worldly or learned enough about history hasn’t gone away
  • Batching relationships into one or two short trips a year doesn’t make the guilt of not keeping in better touch go away
  • Working like a mad woman for months prior to a vacation doesn’t help me relax

You need a vacation to recharge from the stress of your job, but then you need a vacation to recover from your last vacation.  The exhaustion of that vicious cycle is killing you and your productivity.

But what can you do about it?

Before you crawl back to work in despair, check out this list of 10 ways to really relax this summer.  You probably won’t be able to implement them all right away, but even if you manage just one or two, I guarantee you’ll feel better than you have in years. (more…)

How I Tamed My To-Do List, Stopped Looking Like a Flake, and Regained my Sanity

How I Tamed My To-Do List, Stopped Looking Like a Flake, and Regained my Sanity

I recently had a feedback session with my Air Force Reserves supervisor that wasn’t entirely rosy.

By and large, he was happy.  But then he turned serious and asked me, “Can you handle some honest feedback?”

I took a deep breath.

He’d noticed that I had the habit of panicking when I felt I had too much work on my plate, and then rashly canceled on my commitments.

I didn’t necessarily disagree.  I knew I had the habit of signing up for too many activities and projects, mainly because I’m easily excited by opportunities to problem solve.  When my to-do list got to be more than I could handle, I re-prioritized and either wrapped up or backed out of the work that no longer suited me.

What was wrong with that?

He pointed out that not only was I clearly suffering emotionally when I felt overwhelmed, but I was hurting my professional credibility as well.

He told me I had a time management problem.  I argued I had an over-commitment problem.

Over time, I realized he was right.  And the problem was far worse than I realized.

Fortunately, I discovered a process that, with just one day of concentrated effort, allowed me to take control of my calendar, break my enthusiastic tendencies to over-commit, and finally (finally!) let me feel in control.

Today I’ll show you step-by-step how I did it. (more…)

What If 2012 Were the Last Year of Your Life?

I was sixteen when my mom was diagnosed with cancer.

The tumor was in her lung (she’d been a smoker), but it appeared operable.  One of the best cancer hospitals in the country was located just across the street from her office.  Her prognosis was good and we were all pretty positive about the final outcome.

She bravely went to every treatment her doctors ordered: surgery, chemo, radiation.  She listened to positive thinking tapes while recovering, pausing every so often so she could throw up over the side of the couch.  She carried a rabbit’s foot in her purse.

And somehow, while dealing with all of that, she found the energy to try to shield me from much of the reality of her situation.  She fought to live of course, but I think she fought harder so I wouldn’t have to watch her die. (more…)

When Wonder Woman Isn’t Feeling So Wonderful

When Wonder Woman Isn’t Feeling So Wonderful

You want to take a break. No, you need a break.

But you don’t take one.

You’re worried you’ll be seen as irresponsible, unreliable, or selfish. You keep saying, “Things will slow down in a couple of weeks and then I’ll schedule some time off.”

Two weeks go by. Then two months. And the tasks just keep coming.

When I said I wanted to be a writer, I did not mean a writer of to-do lists.

Sometimes I’m tempted to curl up with a cat and not get out of bed until I’m too hungry to lie there anymore (which, for those who don’t know me, is about 15 minutes).

Sometimes when I sigh particularly loudly and my daughter asks me what’s wrong, I don’t know what to tell her because actually, everything is freaking amazing in my life right now.

It’s just that, sometimes, I want to cry from exhaustion.

And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. People often tell me they feel so overwhelmed, they’re paralyzed.  They don’t have the emotional energy for dinner, much less career change. The best they can muster is some down time in front of the TV or computer, but it’s not relaxing and strangely not satisfying.

The writer in me would like to give you 5 simple steps to solve your problem. But let’s face it, ignorance is not the issue.

Nope, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to do one better: I’m going to show you.  Even if it hurts. (more…)

The Worst Productivity Advice (& How It Can Hurt You)

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed these days.

I don’t mind working hard.  In fact, I enjoy it.  But I also want a life.

The first time I really struggled with that balance was in college.  I attended a military academy, so in addition to studying (which I thought I knew how to do), I now had to shine shoes, practice pull-ups, and do work in the squadron. 

Crazy me, I also wanted to attend a party or two.

I tried eliminating as much from my to-do list as possible so I could focus on what mattered: my classes.  The result was that my grades actually declined.

What I inadvertently discovered was Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available to complete it.  

As with my grades, more time doesn’t always equate to better performance.

It’s why productivity experts who try to solve your problems by telling you to just focus may be giving you the worst possible advice. 

Because if you harbor perfectionist tendencies or lack self discipline or are really overwhelmed by a fear of doing something big, focusing is more likely to set you back than propel you forward.  The more you focus, the more time tasks take. 

It can actually be a productivity death spiral.

I’m not the first to talk about the magic of the imminent deadline to squeeze out excellence and get more done.  But few proponents are honest enough to warn you that done incorrectly, this technique can go horribly wrong too.  

This post will set the record straight and help you get your productive mojo back in no time. (more…)