Winning the war against job-related stress

July 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Stress-related "burnout" can be a major problem in fast-paced professions.

Stress-related "burnout" can be a major problem in fast-paced professions. Anxiety can set in if people are required to perform many tasks while simultaneously solving daily crises. If they are not prepared to handle those responsibilities, they can become mentally and emotionally drained.

According to one expert, the secret to handling stress is twofold: being organized and communicating your needs. Laura Berman Fortgang, president of InterCoach Development & Training Inc., Montclair, NJ, specializes in counseling clients on this subject. Her new book, "Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of a #1 Career Coach," was published in May. She recently shared some of her ideas about better organization, communication and time management.

PR: If I'm suffering job-related anxiety, what can I do to alleviate it?

Fortgang: You need to get back to ground zero. When you keep trying to get organized on top of a mess, you're not addressing the source of the problem. Most people say they don't have the time to get organized, to do things like clean their office. In the short term it looks like you don't have the time, but you can't afford not to take the time. You need to turn your office into a system that will work for you. Clear the clutter from your desk. Get rid of outdated materials. Consolidate your files to avoid double categorizing. For your computer, move unneeded files to floppy disks and create an archive directory. Delete e-mail you don't need. For your professional journals, read the table of contents and highlight the articles you want to read. Throw out any newspapers that are more than one week old.

PR: Once a person gets organized, what's the next step?

Fortgang: Start with a clean sheet of paper. Write down all your to-do's and cross them off as you finish. When you finish half of them, transfer the rest to another clean sheet. Check your list daily and prioritize. The reason you organize is so you can prioritize. You have clarity with organization, because from there you can make decisions. When you're not organized, you have to react to everything that comes at you as if it were an emergency. When you have clarity, you can measure each situation carefully and be more proactive in your decision-making.

PR: How are communications skills linked to time management?

Fortgang: You can't manage time, you can only manage yourself. So to manage differently, you have to convey the value of your time to other people. Set boundaries and limits around your time. Too many people think they'll be fired if they say something. But keep in mind that it's the person who gets things done who gets respect in the workplace. You have nothing to lose by putting a boundary in place. The higher your standard, the more respect you command. Don't be afraid to push the envelope a little bit.

PR: Is procrastination a common problem?

Fortgang: Absolutely. It's human nature to procrastinate. Too often when we have a list of 50 things to do, we'll start with the easiest things and save the toughest for last. We'd rather suffer knowing that we still have that tough task in front of us. I recommend that you do the toughest one first. Think of it this way: if you do the hardest one first, the easy ones are frosting on the cake. Once you get that hard task done, your anxiety will disappear.

PR: What other common time management problems do you see?

Fortgang: Too many people have what I call the "Hero Syndrome," a condition that doesn't allow a person to delegate anything because "no one can do it better." That person has a tendency to take on too many projects and is often overwhelmed as a result. PR

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