If I could just care less about my work, I'd do a better job.
March 24, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm the kind of person who gets worried enough they'll do their work not well, or make a mistake, that they end up either not starting or working too slowly and filled with dread. Last week, I had to work late on a project. I had two beers in the process, found I cared less about the anxiety and dread and perfectionism, and just did a better, less stressful job. I want to do this without drinking.

To nip this in the bud: I don't drink very often, and when I do I usually don't drink very much - very much a social drinker if that.

In this particular case, I'd had a particularly stressful work day, treated myself to a beer, got the call that something came up requiring more effort, and treated myself to an (unusual for me) second beer.

I all of a sudden just felt I had less riding on it, like it was something that required less emotional investment - and I could just, well, take a crack at it and finish it up. (I'm still struggling to articulate why everything felt easier, so it's entirely possible I'll have to clarify this in the comments.) I finished it in less time than I was thinking it'd take, and went on to do something fun with my evening.

I want that feeling of just *caring* less about what I do - and part of the problem is I work for an advocacy group whose politics are very much my own, and which I believe in, and that also has something of a stressful staff dynamic, where it feels cliquey at times. It's hard for this not to feel like there's always a lot riding on what I do. Paradoxically, when I feel that weight, the work is less likely to happen, and less likely to happen well.

So, how do I treat it just like a job, that I can just handle tasks without a lot of thought? How do I just let myself feel that way in the morning? Without drinking?

(In case it matters, I currently work out of home doing New/Online Media work, and see staff members in person a few times a month.)
posted by Ash3000 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
When people care 'too much' about what they do, it is often because they are taking it personally i.e. part of their ego is involved in how well something turns out. These are the people who are stressed, defensive etc etc. Like their sense of self, dignity, pride, whatever, is totally on the line every single time. They're trying to protect themselves from feelings of shame or something, lest someone see less than the best in them, call them out on it, and send them into a low-self esteem spiral.

I think that's perfectionism?

So google around for ways to deal with perfectionism.

Learn humility.

Then everything is 'your best effort' + 'always room to grow' and it's a happy light feeling. It's serious, but not dire, if you know what I mean.

That's what I'd do.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:04 AM on March 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Perfectionism is a subset of anxiety. Humans have many ways to manage anxiety:

- clarifying expectations
Are you getting clear information from your supervisors? Do you feel the need to make it better/work longer because you're not certain what's expected? Most advocacy work is infinite; it's important to define small goals along the way to avoid drowning.

- meditation (or its medicalized close cousin, mindfulness-based stress reduction)
This daily practice teaches one how to let go of troublesome thoughts, like "this isn't good enough" or "other workers do it better" or "if I just put in another hour/day/month the results would be more effective."

- drugs
Anti-anxiety drugs like clonazepam or lorazepam have an effect much like two beers, in ten minutes. They are highly habituating (and in some people, addictive as well).

- regular exercise
Provides quiet time to pound on the anxious feelings with your feet/hands/etc.

- therapy
I have found Psychcentral.com to be a great place to get an overview of what therapies are available.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm the same way (one of many symptoms of an anxiety disorder), and anxiety medication usually gets me to the place you want to be. I'm not sure if that's an option you want to consider, but it is an option.
posted by pemberkins at 8:23 AM on March 24, 2014

Do you care too much because you have very specific ideas about what a good job is, or because you are worried about what people will think? Or, are you suffering because expectations are not clear?

This "requiring more effort" call- was it turns out the client thought we were including other stuff so we also need X and Q? Was it, oh, we forgot to mention the London style guide applies? Was it a request for you, specifically, to deliver better or different work?

Approaching this as an anxiety issue is the way to go. Easier done if you can identify the dragons you need to slay.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:24 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having an end point that lays out exactly what is considered "done" will help a lot. Often, perfectionism means that you keep adding and adding to your project because you have new ideas, etc. Listing out exactly what you need to complete a project and then stick to that.
posted by xingcat at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Along with Things Might Go Terribly Horribly Wrong, my go-to guide for overcoming perfectionistic paralysis, I'll also highly recommend the blog and app from Unstuck.
posted by heatherann at 8:29 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Without drinking or without any drugs at all? Because it sounds like you might benefit from a low dose of daily anti-anxiety medication. Back when I had paralyzing anxiety, 1 mg/night of clonazepam (Klonopin) was a life-changer for me.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:35 AM on March 24, 2014

I have this thing too. It's anxiety, and the best things I've found to beat it are meditation (google "mindfulness based stress reduction" if you are interested), exercise, and anti-anxiety meds. I find the body scan meditation practice particularly helpful. You can download free podcasts via iTunes (or find them elsewhere on the web) that walk you through it. It's as relaxing as a beer or two, but no hangover.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:42 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing anxiety as the culprit.

At a certain point you just have to realize that perfectionism isn't efficient - so if your goal is really to be the best you can possibly be and to achieve as much as possible, you need to "zoom out" your view of your work and look at how your perfectionism on individual tasks is having a detrimental effect on your ability to get more things done overall. As they say, "perfect is the enemy of the good."

I'm the same way about a lot of things. In my job I have to do a lot of writing (reports, group emails, etc.) and I often procrastinate, and/or labor over my tasks, because I want them to turn out perfectly.

Instead of getting a whole writing task done in one sitting, I'll often write a rough draft just to get all my thoughts out of my head and into a written format. Then I move on to something else. Coming back to it later with fresh eyes makes me realize it's already pretty good. I give myself a short time limit to proofread and edit, then when my timer goes off (I will sometimes use an actual timer on my phone) I force myself to send/submit and move on.
posted by trivia genius at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I absolutely get where you are coming from. And I am going to make a suggestion that sounds silly, but I have found that it helps me tremendously.

Watch television.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed about the scope of my work and the delicate nature of it where I really don't want to fail my clients. I just recently started watching television or popping in a well worn movie (LoTR for me, as I have found it is easier for me to work while in Middle Earth). If it is something that you don't have to follow and pay attention to too much, it can serve as a 'shiny' object to the part of your brain that needs to stay active with worry. It serves as worry beads for my brain, and helps to just take the edge off but not distract enough to have you making mistakes.
posted by Vaike at 9:52 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Any question that can be reduced to "how do I let go?" can be best answered by a suggestion of practicing meditation. It's the best tool anyone seems to have come up with, so far, for learning to relax and let go. Alcohol is effective, too, but may not be worth the downside of sloppiness and addiction. Meditation doesn't make you also let go your faculties.

I myself practice this simple, stripped-down, non-religious, free system.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:16 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re: the beers. Consider the Ballmer Peak.
posted by rhizome at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2014

One thing that might help is to work to become a “satisficer” rather than a “maximizer.” Decide on the criteria you need to meet to be “done,” and stop when you’ve met them.
posted by metasarah at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you do try using anxiety medication for this sort of thing, give it a test-run before you desperately need it to finish a project immediately. I have the same problem, and I occasionally try to use Ativan for it. But despite the fact that you're supposed to build a tolerance to the stuff, I have never managed it-- I guess I don't use it enough-- and it's a *very* fine line for me between "aaah, that's better" and knocked the f*** out. I am not, in general, a lightweight. But I have to be careful with the Ativan.

As to everything else, I am watching with interest, because I can use the information myself.
posted by Because at 5:30 AM on March 25, 2014

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