How do I work productively at ANY time in ANY mood?
January 6, 2014 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I have trouble getting work done if I'm not in the right mood, which is a rarity. I've become an extreme avoider of anything that will make me mad or frustrated or remind me of things that make me mad and frustrated. The problem is that I’m the number two in a small, overly-ambitious company that may just be the most frustrating one in existence. So I have what many would call an impossible workload and also a massive amount of frustration. The latter unfortunately usually cancels out the former for me and leads to much more of both. Oh, and I can’t easily quit, because it’s a family business and my boss/dad’s life’s work. Simply put, I need to do a complete 180. I need to go from being an emotionally-scarred avoider to a guy that can do what needs to be done even when he feels like screaming until his lungs explode. Paper thin skin to tank armor. I’ve taken too long to realize that if I don’t solve this now, it may ruin the company and my life. I’ll take whatever you can give me: advice, coping techniques, books or articles I should read, websites and online communities I should visit, specific counseling suggestions (not just “get counseling”), whatever. I just can’t take it anymore.

My unexpectedly-long and desperate question pretty much lays it out, so I’ll just fill in any other details that might be relevant.

If you read through any previous questions I’ve posted, you’ll probably get a decent feel for the chaos that is my company. My dad’s got brilliant vision, but lousy execution. That means we can sell jobs just fine, but then struggle to actualize the work. He can’t bring himself to let go of engineers that simply cannot cut it, so I end up spending all my time fixing their work (when I can stand to do it). He firmly believes that just about anything can be learned and finished in a couple of hours and that constantly moving forward is more important than taking the time to plan properly and making sure everything is right first.

I’m the opposite, and my goal has always been to properly and completely learn how to do something, then write standard procedures that anyone can follow. That would be a lot of extra work, but it would be immensely useful to the company. Instead, I spend all my time at work playing fireman and troubleshooter for other people’s mistake-laden work. All those goals of writing standards have gone out the window, because I just don’t have the willpower to put in the extra work to do it because the frustration level of always being the fireman is so high. In truth, I should be putting in about 70-80 hours a week over all seven days. Nights and weekends should be a blessing where I can catch up, but I find myself wasting them, because I just don’t want to even think about work. Knowing that I probably don’t have enough time to do what’s expected of me (checking other people’s work when I need to learn it myself, first) just makes me waste that valuable time with sleeping, worrying, and distractions.

On top of work, I have a girlfriend, who I love, but who is also a source of stress from a different angle. In the same way, the stress from that has inhibited me in my work over the years as I worry about the relationship. We’re going to be going to couples counseling very soon, however, and I pray that that gets us on the right track. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable at work or home, which means I don’t get much done. I’d love to find a place where I live (Houston) where I could get away from both places and just read and work on my laptop with a few people around so I’m not in total isolation, but I haven’t found any real viable options for after work or late at night when I often feel most motivated. The major university libraries are pretty far away from our apartment, so I’d be talking a minimum of an hour of round-trip travel time just to go find a comfortable place open for some decent hours after work.

I’ve been to personal counselors of all types over the years to discuss these issues without any luck. I’ve tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but it falls flat when you confront it with the fact that the things you’re describing really ARE as bad as you’re describing them. It’s not just your outlook that needs to change. I figure if I give counseling another try, I need someone or some system with more oomph to it. Someone that actually has lots of ideas and techniques they can teach me that I can draw on to immediately help keep going me when I’m in a bad mood. Someone that takes an active role in trying to manage my progress and tries to make good strides each week. I’ve always found all my counselors to be too passive, wanting me to figure out the answer myself in miniscule increments, which just leads to months of paying them for not much in return.

I have also been on all sorts of different meds at one time or another. I’ve tried a variety of SSRIs, SNRIs, DRIs, bipolar meds, lithium, and even one for potential ADHD (Vyvanse). None of them really made me feel better or more positive and able to roll with the punches, and the Vyvanse just made me extra focused on the distractions I had around me. Right now, I am on 2 mg of clonazepam a day to try to help mitigate the crippling anxiety that is at the core of what I’ve described here. I did notice an almost immediate improvement in my ability to work while worrying less when I first started taking it. I don’t know if its effect has tapered off in the subsequent months or my responsibilities have just increased since then, evening the stress back out to where it used to be. I don’t dare stop taking them, since they’re the only pills I’ve ever tried that ever had any sort of positive effect that I could discern. However, they’re not the magic bullet, because I still don’t have the mental skills to actually deal with the stress. The pills probably make it easier for me to get out of bed in the morning instead of lying there dreading the day ahead. When I get to work, though, it’s anybody’s guess what my day will look like, so I doubt any dosage of pills is going to get me through that calmly on its own.

I don’t have any sort of wife and kids to support and my job is pretty secure even despite my problems with productivity. I have money in the bank. I’m getting older, though, and I don’t want my experience here to actually inhibit my prospects at another job should I just have to leave some day. I’m a jack-of-all-trades by necessity and sadly kind of weak in the area my degree is in, because I’ve had to learn to fix everything else. My point is that I don’t have any real, critical outside influences that can just FORCE me to shape up. It’s all got to come from me developing my own willpower. And I’ve got to develop a lot of it very quickly. I just don’t know how to do it, and that’s why I need your help. If I can’t fix myself, I think the company’s future, my family’s future, and my relationship with my girlfriend are probably all at high risk of destruction.

To summarize, even if there’s no end in sight or light at the end of the tunnel right now, I need to be able to diligently keep getting lots of stuff done. Regardless of my frustration with my capricious dad, or his stressful company’s effect on my family, or the troublesome aspects of my relationship with my girlfriend, I need to be able to keep going and getting things done instead of sinking into despair, anger, and avoidance. It’s irrelevant whether this is an unfair load for me to carry or not. Things simply tend to fail if I’m not involved, and until the fundamental structure of my surroundings changes, I’ve got to work extra hard to keep everything together. And I can’t do that right now. I can’t get anything done right now, even going through my backlog of emails. It just all makes me feel too awful to confront any of it. However, I’m not helping to fix that by avoiding it all; I’m just making it worse. Help me break the cycle and become a much stronger person. If I don’t, I’m going to break to pieces.
posted by KinoAndHermes to Work & Money (23 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
You sound like a sensitive person who feels feelings more intensely than most.

I suggest making peace with those bad feelings. Bad feelings will always come. That is life. Right now your thinking is "feel bad = avoid action." Instead think of this as an association, like the way Pavlov's dog associated food with a bell. Your feelings have taken over your life, and you need to take it back. You associate bad feeling with "I must collapse now" or "I am a bad person" or whatever. But these are just feelings.

Think of someone you admire - someone (fictional or real) who could focus through bad feelings. Maybe it is an athlete or someone who overcame physical or economic disadvantage, or an "everyman" who rose to the occasion. Focus on your admiration of that person, how much you dream of incorporating their skills, how good it would feel for them to see and acknowledge you as a peer.

Now when bad feelings show up, just see them as they are - bad feelings. May or may not be based in the present situation. "I feel bad, but I am bigger than this" could be your mantra, or "I can beat this."

I play sports and when I came across teams that were much much better than my team, I used to get angry. Now I think: "Pray not for my opponent to be weaker; pray for me to be stronger." I am grateful for my opponents skill as it will make me a better player.

You are a stronger person, you just need to enact it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

There are a lot of colleges that have specialized resources for family business issues, such as the Family Business Institute at Rutgers. My family has a business that I worked in and I know the holy hell that they can be. I suggest that if your dad can't do the project work required, you really ask him by proposal to step up to chairman/silent partner and step away from day to day operations or take a role where he can be productive but harmless to projects that he would not plug into, such as sales calls... but you know the place for him better than I ever could.

it is going to be hard to do this. You have to make the case by increasing his general compensation potential through on-target earnings. That way, he has a reason to execute better because he gets a commission on sales of his vision that you and a new employee will executively manage.
posted by parmanparman at 10:48 AM on January 6, 2014

You are having a completely normal reaction to an unreasonable situation. You need to work on changing the situation. Therapy is not a magic pill that makes you able to withstand unreasonable situations; it's a tool for helping you create a reasonable life by getting rid of or minimizing the unreasonable parts of it. What you need to "fix" is the expectation that you can continue doing what you're doing and survive it emotionally intact.
posted by jaguar at 10:53 AM on January 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

The number one thing you have to know is that you are not, in any way, obligated to make your Dad's dream come true. If he is a bad businessman, it is his job to make sure that the folks in his company can make the business work. It seems that you are not the person to save his company from his bad decision-making, and that's okay. It's not your job to keep your father's business afloat, and it may do both of you some good for you to exit that business and do something else.
posted by xingcat at 10:59 AM on January 6, 2014 [14 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with you. The problem is that you are in a family business. Could you get a job with your same title at a completely different place?

You are number 2 and your Dad will always be number 1. Until that changes, you will be forced to do things his way, which does not mesh well with your view of the world.

One thing you might want to examine is why you want to stay in situations that you are powerless in? You have a work situation where until you are the sole owner, you have no final say, and you are in a relationship where you don't even want to be in your house. The question you need to ask yourself is:

What is keeping me here?

If you leave your father's business will fail. Maybe yes, maybe no. But that's your FATHER'S responsibility and he's not sharing it with you. You have all the stress and none of the authority.

This is not a tenible situation for you. If I were your best friend, I'd tell you to quit your job, and break up with your girlfriend. Strike out in any direction you like, take a job where you're not expected to dig the Panama Canal with a teaspoon. Find a girlfriend who can support you and help alieviate stress, not add to it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:00 AM on January 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I learned to cope with moods and feelings by reading Constructive Living and learned that I could feel my emotions but that they didn't have to dictate my actions. Changed my life. "Do what needs to be done."
posted by Ideefixe at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

In truth, I should be putting in about 70-80 hours a week over all seven days. Nights and weekends should be a blessing where I can catch up, but I find myself wasting them, because I just don’t want to even think about work.

If that's your expectation, no wonder you have a fear of failure and are burnt out. I doubt there is anybody on this planet who could keep up that pace, let alone indefinitely, let alone in anything resembling a healthy, happy way. In the US, a full-time workload is +/- 40 hours per week -- and that's considered to be too much in many, many cultures and by many, many people. You're talking about a workload that is literally double that. I'm sorry, but you are not superhuman and you can't take on the workload of two full-time workers. And if you have to do so for any length of time, you certainly can't expect yourself to be happy and relaxed about it. Nothing is wrong with you.

my goal has always been to properly and completely learn how to do something, then write standard procedures that anyone can follow. That would be a lot of extra work, but it would be immensely useful to the company. Instead, I spend all my time at work playing fireman and troubleshooter for other people’s mistake-laden work. All those goals of writing standards have gone out the window, because I just don’t have the willpower to put in the extra work to do it because the frustration level of always being the fireman is so high.

You know of a job that you're suited for and that would be useful to your company -- creating standard procedures for your workers to follow. You should be doing that job, not trying to do all the jobs (and thus inevitably ending up doing no jobs well or maybe even doing any jobs at all).

You need to hire someone to do the "fireman" job. From what you've written, I would guess that the "fireman" job would basically be a coordinator/manager position for the engineers. People do specialize in management (MBA grads, for instance) and your company desperately needs one of those specialists. I understand that it's expensive to hire an upper-level employee like that, but you are not the best person for the job you're trying to do, you know it, other jobs that you are the best person for are being left undone, and your company is in danger of being driven into the ground because of it -- when your company's survival is at risk, as well as your happiness and sanity, it's not a good time to skimp.

If I were you, I would look very deeply into the budget and try to figure out what kind of salary you could offer a manager who could work on the "fireman" issues. Also think about what skills and personality a job like that requires, and consider who might be a good fit -- it might be best to promote from within. If your father balks, figure out how to get him on board, because this is truly what is best for your company and for you, and growing a company doesn't just (or even primarily, in many cases) mean taking on more clients, it means taking on more employees. It also likely means more specialization from employees, and having a jack-of-all-trades "VP" is apparently no longer appropriate for the company, given its size now and the size your father wants it to eventually be.

So as for your initial question -- how can you work productively at all times, well, my answer is that you need to create reasonable expectations for yourself (and your employees), figure out what procedures are involved in meeting those expectations, and then work to carry out those procedures one step at a time. An expectation is reasonable if the given person (such as yourself) has the physical ability and skills necessary to carry out the amount and type of work assigned. Expecting yourself to work literally all the time is not reasonable, you don't have the physical ability to do that. Expecting yourself to work literally any job that comes along is not reasonable, you don't have the skills to do that.
posted by rue72 at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I wasted 20 years of my life trying to make my mom and dad's dreams concerning a business come true. It doesn't work, at least not in the situation you describe, which sounds like most of them. Work on your resume, and get out. Run.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with randomkeystrike. No one has ever needed to quit a job more. My family owns a business, and it would be great for the business if I joined. But my dad realizes it is not my dream. I'm guessing your dad wants you to be happy! Don't waste your life! Follow your bliss. Seriously. It will make the rest of your life better, including possibly your relationship with your family.
posted by Kalmya at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2014

Things Fall Apart is a very readable book very much about separating feeling and action, it's gently Buddhist (author is Pema Chodron). It also touches on meditation, separating pain from suffering, and other useful things. Highly recommend.

Also meditate...just sit with your feelings and let it be ok. Give your brain a rest.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:48 PM on January 6, 2014

I appreciate all the answers and hope to hear more of them. I've ordered Contructive Living based on Ideefixe's suggestion after looking more into it. I'm intrigued by the concept of just being able to accept my emotions instead of trying to change them, which has always been my goal. Plus, the book is nice and short. I hate investing gobs of time into self-help books that help nothing.

I knew I'd be getting a lot answers related to my specific situation and recommending that I quit and such. I can't say any of you are wrong in you assessment. I'd have quit a long time ago but for two reasons. 1) The work has the potential to be immensely interesting to me as an engineer, since it covers so many different facets. I like being able to see the big picture and do the details, and I seem to have the knack for picking up just about anything. My older sister is also an engineer and is completely pigeonholed in her job, and I don't want that for myself. Unfortunately, I pick up things better than all the other engineers who are supposed to be taking the load off of me. We've hired a business manager to try to find us some better people that can actually do something, but it remains to be seen how that will turn out. 2) I don't want the crashing down of the business to negatively affect my mom, who I care about more than anything. She's had to put up with it forever with my dad, and is staying employed past retirement at least in part to keep the finances stable at home. She loves her job, but she also feels she NEEDS her job.

Anyway, I know that the situation is "toxic" as my former psychiatrist once put it. I'm afraid, though, that I've regressed in my ability to just handle stuff because of all my negative experiences. I was never good at "dealing" to begin with. So I can't be fully sure that a change in situation will be the linchpin that solves most things. I'd probably get fired from a "real job" with some of the bad habits I've developed at this one.

I'd still really like to know how each of you push on through and get things done when you really, really don't feel like it. It may just be a technique or something you say to yourself to get you through one individual thing, but it could be useful to me, and that's really what I wanted to know in my original question. Obviously, I have bigger issues to deal with, but I'd still like to work on being able to deal with individual situations. Who knows? If I get some momentum, maybe I can work up the motivation to tackle some of the bigger issues at hand that have already been discussed. I guess you could say I'm looking to stop the bleeding immediately, THEN deal with the subsequent surgery.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 1:11 PM on January 6, 2014

If you're choosing to stay in the job, then own the fact that you're actively choosing to stay in the job. Stop framing the situation as one you have no control over.

If you're thinking of yourself as a powerless victim, you're going to be depressed and anxious. Start focusing on the power you do have and the decisions that you are making.
posted by jaguar at 1:45 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd still really like to know how each of you push on through and get things done when you really, really don't feel like it.

I tell myself that I am a MOTHERFUCKING ADULT and that people are relying on me and then I set a timer, pick the least revolting item off the Shit I Do Not Want To Do list, and do it for 15 minutes. Usually that thwarts procrastination.

And when that fails, I hear my mother's voice in my head, snapping "Sabrina, people lived through the Holocaust. There is zero chance you will not survive this task. Wash your face, brush your teeth and get on with it." And then I remember that it's called work because it isn't fun and... get on with it.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:47 PM on January 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

Well, thank you for the answers. They've given me different things to think about than I initially expecting. I'll mull them over and check out that book, and see what sort of useful suggestions I can glean from it all.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2014

I struggle with anxiety-induced paralysis too. As a kind of tourniquet (obviously you can't extricate yourself from this situation tomorrow morning), here are some coping techniques that help me:

1. I remind myself that the task isn't going to be any easier to get started on 10 minutes, or an hour, or a day from now.

2. If possible, I will listen to something to drown out the "no wait, pay attention to THIS instead, what about this, I really need to deal with that too" voices in my head which end up with me in the middle of 15 tasks and not making progress on any of them. I actually put on NPR because it gives me something to listen to when I start a task and once I'm safely into the flow of the task, I completely block it out because I have hyper focus. I think normal people would listen to music, possibly without words.

3. External deadlines - this may be easier for me than you because I have clients who expect things at X time and a boss who will want to know why I didn't deliver at X time - and if I screw up deadlines too often, I'm fired.

4 (this should probably really be #1) - make a priority list and stick to it. If you find yourself getting sidetracked into other things, you can look at the list (I write a new one every day) to remind yourself what is actually top priority.

4A. Sometimes I like to take a break from a big important task by getting through small tasks that I know will take ten minutes or less. This allows me to cross multiple things off on my list at once and feel happy about my accomplishments. (I'm big into lists, obviously.)

5. Log out of your email while you're trying to focus on something. I can't do this very often because I need to be responsive to clients, so I've also set my email (outlook) up so it only sends and recieves every 10 minutes. I also turned off the new email sound and the notification in the bottom right hand of the screen - the only way I can tell if I've got new email is to look at the icon which gets a little envelope when I've got email. I am always amazed/horrified at how many times I go to click on email to see if there's anything new even when I'm logged out to ostensibly concentrate.

6. I put my phone in my purse or elsewhere that's not in my line of sight and where I won't notice it ringing. Again, I find myself reaching to check it a zillion times a day even when it's in my purse, so it's useful to have to reach for it.

7. I have one browser (safari) for internetting breaks and use chrome for work. This sort of signals to me that if safari is closed, I shouldn't open it because I need to concentrate. I would add that I also only allow myself to check Facebook and metafilter on my phone (which again is in my purse) because they are waaaay too seductive to have in a regular browser.

That's all I have. I have a huge advantage over you because it sounds like you can't really be fired, which makes it way harder to summon the fear that motivates me.

Good luck!
posted by data hound at 4:48 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh - I decide what task is priority pretty simply - what task is going to make my company the most revenue? If it's a pitch for new business, that comes first. If there's no new business, I work on the projects of the biggest clients first.
posted by data hound at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2014

Look, you need to get out.

I worked at a job that was toxic because of...things. I am convinced one reason my boss died is because her body literally could not take the stress anymore.

I have a new job now and I cannot BELIEVE how much better life is. Right now you feel like you have no choice and your psyche is begging to differ with you. Your life, your health, is worth more than this. If your dad refuses to change (and realistically, he probably will not change) this is not a lifestyle you can keep up with indefinitely. Yes, if things were different this would be a good job, a fine career.

But things are not and probably will NOT BE different.

Run. Like the wind.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:42 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I am going to suggest may sound ridiculous. In fact, I find it kind of ridiculous even though I am doing it and it is helping me.

Whenever I am having a really rough time at work, I take a deep breath and say to myself "I choose to be happy at work." When I am having difficulty concentrating, I say to myself, "I choose to be happy and productive at work." (etc..) If my frustration or anxiety starts to rise up during this process, I take another deep breath and try to focus on the idea of choice, or the phrase "I choose". Then I take a final deep breath and get back to work. Even though there is a part of me that is incredulous about the whole thing, I keep doing it because it keeps helping. Afterwards, I feel calmer and more capable.

Another thing I would suggest looking into is mindfulness. I am not well-versed enough in the concept to explain it well, but I feel like it could help you to acknowledge your emotions without letting them consume you.
posted by aka_anon at 7:01 PM on January 6, 2014

It seems like you are demanding of yourself something that is just not really possible. I mean, no wonder the counselors and medications don't work. I could go to dozens of counselors and take loads of ADD meds or whatever and not be able to put in 80 hour weeks and be unaffected emotionally by a frustrating environment where you don't have enough power to do things properly. Because it's not really possible is it? Maybe for brief periods and where it's a life-or-death situation but not otherwise.

It doesn't sound like there is much of anything wrong with you, but there is something wrong with your sh!tty, misery inducing work environment. I mean.. you can't do what you can't do. The situation sounds unmanageable to me.

All that said, I seem to be best at doing stuff I really am wound up about and don't want to face by doing the following: getting exercise (I run, I do yoga - YMMV) where I'm not completely wiped out, but physically it sort of gets the emotional energy out of the way for a while and it's a good time to tackle things that stress me. I tell myself stuff like "okay, just take care of this now, don't think about it, go." Or sometimes meditating for like 15 minutes puts me in that mindset. Or sometimes I go do a number of tasks that don't really cause me stress but are satisfying to have finished and then it's kind of a momentum thing - I swept the floor, I took out the trash, I put things away, okay, things are going well, I'm getting a lot done so let's do X (annoying task) now. Exercise though. That definitely works for me.
posted by citron at 7:36 PM on January 6, 2014

Apologies if these have been covered:

You sound completely frayed. If you’ve been bathing in cortisol since (I checked your posts – at least July, probably months before that), I think it’s imperative you honour your stated need for calm and respite.

You have to keep your physical stamina up. You have to sleep and eat to fuel your body for repair from this unremitting stress, and for readiness for the next day. If your habits are irregular under even ideal conditions, you must be religious about imposing order onto these basic functions.

Sleep hygiene is a must. Calm from two hours before bed is a must. To sleep normally, you have to funnel this relentless worry somewhere other than your brain or else succeed at distracting yourself. (When was the last time you could watch a movie or go for a walk without running through desperate or hopeless-feeling scenarios, or guilt?) You need to allow yourself to get distracted sometimes. You have to relax.

I’d suggest writing down your worries before bed, which has moderately helped me expunge anxiety when I’ve felt about an eighth as bad as I think you do now, but I’m alone, I don’t have a partner next to me whose very presence enervates me (though I have been in that situation before. Even just with that, there is no rest). Separate bedrooms, at least.

If separate bedrooms and counselling can’t get you two hours of calm before bed quickly enough, move out. Get a short-term sublet closer to the office. Tell your SO it’s because you need to be located nearby. Anything could happen anytime, and you’re a nerve. The commute is breaking you. You love her very much and hope this gives you both time and space just to relax until (April or May or whatever), when you get more of a handle on things. Of course you will see her on the weekends and regularly go to counselling.

And I think you should find a place separate from even that to do the hour or two of constructive work available to you. (I would say, a coffee shop near your new sublet.)

Basically, I think very firm boundaries of location and habit will help.

(That’s until whatever needs to happen to this business in order for you to leave with a free conscience happens. I hope it happens sooner than later.)


Re working on a dime: 1) prioritized and dated list of key objectives that can realistically be done in the allotted time; 2) dedicated space for mental work; 3) the Pomodoro technique (and an internet blocker, etc.).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:51 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your family business should have died long ago. I'd sit down with your mother and father and explain to them: "I love you very much and while I wish I were able to, I simply can't hold this buisness together anymore. It is affecting my physical health, my mental health and my relationships. In order to keep up with everything at work, I'd have to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and I simply can't do it anymore. I love my work, and I'd like to stay, and in order to do so, some things have to change."

While you love your mother very much, you can't save her, and it's not your responsibility to do so. I assume that she has an interest in the business (half-owner) and that she loves you. If she KNEW what was happening, she would have put a stop to it long ago. She can be your ally for making material changes going forward.

For now, you need to take a break. Take two weeks off and do absolutely nothing. Sleep. Eat nice food. Read fluffy books. Do not check email, do not turn on your cell phone. Let the business do what it does.

When you return, go back with a different mind-set. You work a 40 hour week now. Don't be a fire-fighter, let people's work stand on its own. When enough shit hits the fan, your father will realize that his people are not suited to their jobs and he'll either get better people or he'll scale back the jobs he takes on until things can become manageable.

Rather than the business manager, make it YOUR priority to hire the new, better people. You know what skills they need to have and what they need to do to make the business successful. This will free you up to do the work you want to do.

Set up your documentation, sort out your processes, its what you really want to be doing and once it's set up, EVERYTHING will flow more smoothly.

My older sister is also an engineer and is completely pigeonholed in her job, and I don't want that for myself

Wake up. I'd rather be pigeonholed than dying of stress, miserable and having no life away from work. You are not in a better situation than your sister, your situation is potentially DEADLY!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:53 AM on January 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need an escape route.

You only have limited energy. You cannot lie yourself into using more energy than you have, and you know you will have. Subconsciously, you are half-assing it because you KNOW you don't have the energy to do 70-80 hours a week, so why try?

After a few weeks of working over 40 hours a week, productivity generally drops down to the same level you had at 40 hours a week, and at increasing levels (60-70), actually drops to below what people accomplish in 40 hours.

Do you know how the 40 hour week was established? 19th century industrialists did not do it out of the kindness of their black, black hearts, but because they did the studies that show the above, and the results of those studies have not changed in a century, instead, we've just forgotten, and are having to learn all over again.

If you have an escape route, you may be able to up your game for awhile, because you know things will change, and want to go out on a good note. Think about it, you'll actually have to document and set up the systems if you are going to be leaving, because you won't be around to consult, which will place those tasks as higher priority.
See also Planning Your Escape: What to do when your job is doing you in by Neil Fiore.

Also, you need a safe space. I can cope with maybe one out of my work, home and relationships being out of wack, but not all three. Fix one. As soon as possible. Move out, if you don't break up, or break up.
Being alone, is not 'out of wack' for me, but being in a dysfunctional relationship is, especially if my friendships are good.
posted by Elysum at 3:42 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wanted to follow up on this question. I do appreciate all of the responses, and there's certainly truth and good perspective in all of them. Thank you all for the taking the time to try help a guy who was at his wit's end when he wrote this.

I thought I'd give a small update on my situation, first. If you don't have time, skip to the end where I talk about my selected "best answer" from this thread.

My dad has independently come to the realization that he and I need to work much more closely together. Now, he's come to this conclusion a few times before, but this time he seems more active in pursuing it. I'm going to attempt to not let the opportunity to exert more influence slip away this time as in times past. He and I working more closely together will allow us to better set priorities and better evaluate our personnel.

In my private life, my girlfriend and I are going to couple's counseling, which I actually feel rather positive about. If successful, that should be like pulling the drain plug in an ever-filling bathtub of frustration, I believe. Our counselor uses a well-established program for helping to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship and work on better communication and conflict resolution. We have homework each week in the form of actual worksheets we're supposed to fill out and discuss. As someone who has done tons of therapy where you just walk in, talk, listen to a few off-the-cuff ideas that may or may not work, write a check, and walk out, I cannot stress enough how much better I think this structured approach is. It may be more suited for couple's therapy (I don't know that for sure), but even in individual counseling I'll look for something structured when I need it in the future. Having actual concrete homework like in school makes you actually get something out of the therapy in the other 167 hours between sessions.

One more thing about our counseling that I like is that we're seeing someone who's part of an actual organization of counselors in my city. This has several advantages that I have already seen. In the past, I've tried picking individual therapists out based on internet research or others' recommendations, but it's always a crap shoot. Then, if they don't work, you're back to the drawing board. Here, I feel fairly confident that if our current counselor didn't work out, we could smoothly transition to someone else in the organization who might be a better fit. In fact, our counselor has already recommended another counselor for us to talk to for some more specific issues we'd like to address and they're going to share and discuss our situation back-and-forth directly, which seems incredibly efficient and effective.

Finally, the counseling group benefits from being able to share administrators and facilities, which not only cuts the full cost of a session, but allows them to handle taking a wide variety of insurances. Many individual counselors flat out do not want to deal with the insurance hassle themselves (don't blame them), so you're getting charged full price. One final thing I will point out is that this group is a non-profit group that was recommended to me by my pastor. Seems pretty good so far compared to my other experiences, so maybe that's something else to consider when looking for someone.

OKAY, ABOUT THIS QUESTION I ASKED HERE. Ideefixe's suggestion really knocked it out of the park in terms of answering my question, I think. I've read Constructive Living by this point (it's only 106 pages), and it pretty much exactly addresses the issue of how do you work when you don't feel like it. In short, you can't control your feelings at all and you only have limited control over your thoughts, so you just learn to accept them, however they are, and keep actually DOING stuff. You have complete control over your ACTIONS, and it's highly likely that accomplishing things will lead to better feelings anyway. Trying to control your feelings is just a waste of time that will lead to you being controlled by them while not getting anything done. Yep, that's exactly how it's been.

It sounds simple enough, but it's a radical departure from many standard Western therapy approaches. David Reynolds writes in a nicely conversational tone, which I think helps the ideas sink in. A lot of what I read hit the nail on the head in describing how I'd been living my life, and why it's not working. I felt much more of a connection to this book than I did to any previous self help books or therapy attempts I've gone through. The book is short and mainly conceptual, but the concepts have KEPT me thinking and fueled me to dig deeper into CL and the Morita and Naikan therapies on which it's based. However, that's going to be a side venture, as Constructive Living and Morita Therapy would probably say to actually get moving on what you need to do instead of reading more books as a distraction. Well, ok, then. I'm going to try to start DOING. Now. It's not going be to easy, because it's a complete lifestyle change and Reynolds admits that. But that's life, he says, and it makes more sense that life will be hard and have its ups and down and will be improved step by actual step rather than with a few magical words in a book.

I'd definitely recommend reading this book. It's short and it didn't necessarily give me a laundry list of specific mental coping exercises like I was hoping for, but its words and concepts have continued to stick in my mind. That's kind of energizing in itself, so I'll try to act on them.
posted by KinoAndHermes at 10:22 AM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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