Help me not get fired for sucking at work.
December 7, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me not get fired for sucking at work.

I've always been a hard worker and as a result have a pretty robust career for being 12 years out of college. However, due to personal life strife and working things out at home and making gigantic changes (read: new house, breakup, new life?), I've been feeling burned out in general. I've always been one for keeping work and life seperate, emotions and feelings included. However, I'm just so overwhelmed! and I feel like it's spilling over into the workspace!

At work, I'm totally overloaded and it's in the process of being addressed by hiring more people in the new year. Fine, I know there's an end in sight. However, RIGHT NOW I need some help just staying focused on doing work at work and not something dumb like reading on the internet. My productivity sucks. I feel so overwhelmed by my workload that I procrastinate and put everything off because I just don't know where to start. As a result, nothing gets done, everything is late, and I'm just getting worried about myself. The emails never stop. I could spend a whole day just staying on top of email, easily. I've taken work home after work to try and sort things out, which helps sometimes, but I also need to do home stuff at home...not work stuff.

I've expressed all of this to my boss and he seems to understand and helps me with prioritizing. However, again, I'm so overwhelmed by my outside of work situation and my inside of work situation that I just put it all off. :( I've tried writing lists, I've tried the whole just-accomplish-ONE-tangible-thing-a-day, I've tried delegating, I've tried taking time off...some of it helps temporarily, but then I feel like I'm right back in this place again. Ugh.

Help please! I don't want to lose my job that I truly do love for just generally sucking.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Holy crap, if I didn't know any better I'd say I wrote this! I'm totally paralyzed by life frequently now. It's GREAT that you have an understanding boss, that's critical. It's also good that there's an end in sight. I'd say these 2 things make you really lucky. What I've been doing just recently to deal with things better is meditation. I also just read "'Mindfulness' Therapy Works for Depression this morning, which seems to say, yes, meditating, that's good. I've also found listening to happy loud music does the trick for a bit as well. Really, you're lucky you have an end in sight. Hang in there.
posted by Blake at 10:31 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

What exactly do you like about this job? You make it sound dreadful.

This sounds like a huge case of burnout to me, along with a set of expectations that you can't possibly meet being dropped upon you. Getting a re-set on your responsibilities is probably in order. Be honest with your boss (and yourself) about what you can and can't get done in a day. You're useless right now because you're too overwhelmed. If you can get a grip on what needs to be accomplished, you'll likely be more help to everyone.
posted by Gilbert at 10:32 AM on December 7, 2010

If your boss will go for it, try working one day a week at home (or somewhere other than the office).

Turn off your phone, set your email to offline, put the headphones on and start cranking through it.

I find that the occasional really focused, no-distractions workday does wonders for my productivity and morale.

Good luck!
posted by dolface at 10:34 AM on December 7, 2010

You sound just like me! I have an amazing job that I love, but I struggle with my current workload and home life balance (which is made more difficult because I work at home), and it just seems to breed procrastination which in turn makes me feel terrible because I'm sucking at something that I really don't suck at. There are a few things that really help me, like getting on a steady sleep schedule, not taking work home (which for me means closing my laptop as close to 6pm as possible), making sure that I'm eating well (lots of fresh veggies and fruit and nothing from a fast food joint) and getting outside enough or getting a little exercise every day. You'd be surprised at how much a little self care can help - if you're not well nourished and well rested, then you're not going to be much use to yourself or anyone.

To address the specific productivity issues at work, I've found that the Pomodoro Technique works really well for me. You can download the book for free in .pdf form here, and use the focus booster timer or download the app, both here. You can use it for any task - it has helped me to get things done at work, but it also helps me finish things at home, like laundry and bathroom cleaning instead of zoning out on the couch because I had no idea where to start and couldn't stay on task. It's really simple, but it was a total life (and job) saver for me, and I think it might work for you, too.

Good luck, I know that you can make it through this!
posted by mewithoutyou at 10:55 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound depressed and overwhelmed. Are you normally a perfectionist? Is it hard for you to start on projects because a) you're afraid of failure and/or b) you're so overwhelmed that you don't know where to start?

The most helpful advice that I ever got when I was in therapy for depression "if somethings worth doing it's worth doing half-assed." Seriously, doesn't mean do a shitty job as some interpret it, but for me, when I feel overwhelmed I repeat that mantra and it takes A LOT of the self-imposed pressure off and I end up being more productive (or in a lot of cases productive rather than as you describe just sitting and reading stupid stuff on the internet all day).
posted by kaybdc at 10:56 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may have added an imaginary stress ("I'm not doing a good job") to a set of real ones. Everyone takes a little break every now and then; this may or may not be the contributing factor to the feeling that nothing's getting accomplished. If you're on MF 2 hours a day, by all means stop, but it may be that you're putting in an honest 40+ and just not gaining traction.

As a case in point, I spent last week working fairly hard, probably put in an honest 40 hour week, and still didn't get to do the ONE thing I'd promised myself was going to get done. I finally got it done Saturday morning, which is not supposed to be a work day, but when I got on it without distractions it took - 2 hours. Well, I'm the same person that I was during those previous work hours where I couldn't get it done, so it's not me being lazy or incompetent.

I sometimes feel we're starting to worship at the shrine of concepts like "time management" and "prioritization," when they're only partial answers to the problems raised by unreasonable workflow. We all face unreasonable chunks of workflow from time to time and have to make hard choices, but if EVERY DAY is a tidal wave of suck, then they can't expect good results in the long run.

Things I try to do when things get overwhelming, at home, work, or both:

- the crazier things get, the more important it is to keep that firewall up. Tell yourself you're going to worry about your personal problems after hours. Then keep your word. After work, spend time on those issues, or on blowing off steam, or whatever. Not to say you can't put in some OT, or the like, just don't burn yourself out.
- your company's failure to put enough resources on the job does not constitute a failure on your part. Honestly tell your boss what resources you need (an assistant, to delegate some of the work, etc.) and if they say "we can't give you that," then tell them you'll do the best you can.

Nthing "carve out some distraction-free zones." If at ALL possible, turn off the phone, e-mail, etc. at least for 1 or 2 hour stretches to tackle hard jobs.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:58 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, is there a legitimate concern that you may be fired, or are you just feeling guilty/anxious about not keeping up with work, and that is feeding this concern? From what you've described, your boss seems to be understanding of the situation, and you haven't received any warnings of impending termination, right? You have to stop focusing on the possibility of getting fired and put that energy onto something more productive, like getting something done for the day. If you just focus on a small task and complete that, you will feel a whole lot better. Also, it may be time to speak to a therapist, maybe get an anti-anxiety medication, or go for a short walk every day. Good luck.
posted by Sal and Richard at 12:32 PM on December 7, 2010

I am going to answer a different way and assume that right now you just have too much work or let yourself get a little behind. Understanding boss or not, if you have been slacking you have got to make it up. What this means for me is that every once a a while (2 or so times a year) I come in on a weekend in my sweats. I don't check messages, I leave the email alone and just work all day Saturday. I will then usually pop in Sunday too for a couple hours and empty my mailbox/inbox for phone, email and physical inbox. I finish this day with a clear slate, a clean office (do this first or last) and a very good idea of what my week will be like. Its the thinking about getting things done, not the doing that takes the time. You know that feeling of control over your work before you go on vacation? You can have that now. I have found that order in one area of life really let's me manage the stress of life that is beyond my control. Good luck.
posted by saradarlin at 12:56 PM on December 7, 2010

This may sound stupidly cliche, but it sounds like you need a vacation. Seriously.

You've got a lot going on in your head right now. Taking the time to just *deal* with it may be the best medicine.

I hope that taking some time off is an option.
posted by Citrus at 1:07 PM on December 7, 2010

How much of your job is being responsive to other people's questions or requests for help, and how much is supposed to be completing tasks or projects that don't involve a lot of interaction with other people?

I find that when I get overwhelmed, the final paralysis usually sets in when I start seeing the dumb Outlook envelope pop up every half hour, and see the long line of waiting-for-responses emails in my inbox. That's why work starts to leach over into evenings and weekends; those are the only times when I feel relief from the anxiety of the guilt for all the emails I'm behind on.

If that's the case for you, how about talking to your boss about setting aside a certain block of time each day (or one day a week) where you're not available via email or phone? This is useful on two levels: one, it gives you some breathing room to actually get real work done without being paralyzed about all the people waiting to hear back from you, and two, it starts to retrain people a bit to not bug you as much with trivial stuff. (Not sure that latter one is a problem for you, but being very responsive over email can lead to people pestering you about stuff rather than figuring it out on their own.) It's critical to get boss buy-in on this, because you don't want people calling up your boss and saying "OMG, where is anonymous, I haven't heard from her all morning!" But if your job does include some work products that you need time away from the demon emails to complete, I bet your boss would be open to your suggestion.

If you can make it one day a week, and work from home, that's stellar; otherwise, even two hours each day (e.g., you're unavailable from 3pm onward every day or before 11am in the mornings) can really make a difference.
posted by iminurmefi at 2:47 PM on December 7, 2010

This may be too simple, but when I feel overwhelmed, I set one day aside, usually a Saturday, sometimes a weekend, and knock off the tasks I need to do by focusing 100% on each task at hand, usually in this order: #1 clean office and lay out stacks of each project. #2 listen to all voice mail messages and respond to them, #3 go through all of my email and respond, #4 organize all "must do's" by category of things that can be completed quickly, things that will take longer, and things that will take a considerable amount of time, #5 attack the pile of quick things, #6 reward myself with lunch, #7 attack the medium time-length stack, #8 go home and get a good night's sleep, #9 get up the next morning and work all day on the last batch of tasks. The secret to getting this done is to do this over a weekend and don't answer calls, visit FaceBook, etc. Oh, and drink copious amounts of coffee...
posted by MsKim at 4:14 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

However, due to personal life strife and working things out at home and making gigantic changes (read: new house, breakup, new life?), I've been feeling burned out in general. [...] I'm so overwhelmed by my outside of work situation [...]

Explain all this to friends, family, or new mate and convince them to pitch in at home so you can focus on work. Call in all favors you've ever done. Insist that people help you outside work so you can focus on your job. If there is no one else you can turn to right now, look yourself in the mirror and give yourself a Stuart Smalley talk. And get some sleep.

Then tackle the job bit by bit with prioritized lists.

I feel so overwhelmed by my workload that I procrastinate and put everything off because I just don't know where to start.

Break problems into manageable chunks that have well-defined beginnings and ends. Finish A, then start on B. Finish B, then start on C. Work on A and B in parallel where it makes sense, but don't work on lower priority things when you could be making progress on higher priority things.

Keep progress notes for yourself so you don't get lost. A simple table will do: task name, description, working notes, priority, status. Sort by priority and get the top stuff done.

If you add a higher priority task to your list, readjust your activities to get the new high-priority thing done. Don't go home until something measurable and reportable is done and submitted. Your boss needs to see that you're working on what is important to your boss and that you are getting those tasks done.
posted by pracowity at 1:49 AM on December 8, 2010

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