Burnout and deadlines
June 21, 2019 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Unavoidable work with brain on the blink. What do I do? Wall of text, with snowflakes, below.

I've spent the last four years under a difficult senior manager - it's been hard to work under someone who is disorganized and catastrophizes more or less constantly (work is hard and high/immediate impact in industry). I'm an anxious person to start with and our working styles probably exacerbated each other's worst tendencies. It also didn't help that they had a lamentable tendency to talk endlessly about non-work stuff that definitely felt like crossing into unpaid emotional labour.
In short, due to all the stuff above and my naturally good procrastinating abilities, I've accumulated a lot of Stuff That Needs To Be Put Right - some paperwork, some organization, some record keeping, here and there, a fair bit of which needs their input. I've been putting it off for months now.
It would appear that they are shortly to be moved to a different team and while the geographic location would remain the same, I would not have the same access to them that I did. Additionally, I, too, am expected to transition to a different team in about four months or so. Now all that stuff is on a hard deadline. Naturally, therefore, this week has been the absolute worst in terms of productivity. I'm feeling very, very burnt out. The enormous amount of extra work is scaring me off even before I begin. Some of the burnout is physical exhaustion - I've had a terrible, multiple hours commute from the beginning of this stint and the strain is beginning to tell. Some of it is the anxiety short-circuiting the part of my brain that's usually quite responsive to deadlines. If I start working at all, I'm distracted and tetchy and absolutely unable build any momentum.
In sum, I've spent this entire week reading Metafilter at work. All day. Every day. This cannot continue. I have about a month where I have to kick it into high gear. And yet I am very, very tired and very over it all. What do I do?
Hope me. Thank you.
posted by Nieshka to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For me, finding things that are accomplish-able within a day or a week, with very specific, trackable milestones, helps a lot. For much of what you're describing, I have the same resistance issues. If I see a project that's multi-faceted, has many different moving parts AND a hard deadline? I lose my cool and start to think it all impossible.

Breaking off a chunk of that, a chunk you can accomplish in a day (so that may be as little as putting together checklists for each task) can help me see the progress I'm making and help move me forward.
posted by xingcat at 6:28 AM on June 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

I feel you. Happens to me often. Two things that have helped me:

-Can you take a day off? When everything's spinning like that, it helps to clear the head.

-Use something like Todoist to keep track of what needs to be done. My manager, who has mild ADHD, has gotten our team all using it, and I find it helpful. My manager has told us not to think of it necessarily as "stuff you need to do", but "stuff you need to keep somewhere other than your head", because stuff you keep in your head tends to be forgotten. It also has scheduling capabilities, so you don't have to see a list of 100 things you have to do over four months. You just see the list of five or so things you have to do today. It feels much more manageable, and you do get a bit of a dopamine rush when you check one of those things off.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry you're dealing with this but great time to ask.

My recommendation is that the first thing you do is book a day off, like Monday. Say that you have the stomach flu if you need to. Do not read your email, do not make to-do lists. Go to an art gallery, for a hike, to a movie - anything that will help you unplug a bit.

Then on Tuesday, make a plan for what you will tackle each day for the next week (reasonable chunk. Doesn't really matter where you start, just pick any things.)

Set a standing meeting at, if possible, around 2-4pm. The morning is for you to plug away at the pieces you control. Use the Pomodoro method - 25 minutes focused work, 5 minute planned break. Set timers for these things. Use different playlists if you can to delineate work and play time. Then you take a lunch break and you MUST take a lunch break, outdoors if at all possible. When you are in an anxiety spiral, 8 hours is just too long on your body and you will zone out. Instead of that, move - walk, jumping jacks, shop, anything.

Then you spend 25 minutes prepping for the standing meeting. (Or two blocks if you need them.) Line up the questions/forms/whatever that you need from your boss. If it's complex, line it up for the next day.

Have the meeting with the list on the table and check each question/item off as you do it, visibly, so your boss has a visual cue for what needs to be done. To keep meetings focused and productive, set an alarm on your phone to end it. After the meeting, spend at least one 25-minute block to document whatever you need to document from that meeting in order to complete that task. Anything that needs continuing goes on the list for the next day.

Then each Monday, you lay out the tasks for the week. Each Friday, you wrap up everything that was on that list or redistribute it.

You can do this.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 AM on June 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

No magic bullet, I’m afraid.

Whenever I’ve been in your shoes, I put together a to-do list and attempt to prioritize the items.

Items that require input from your Senior Mgr become formal scheduled meetings where you’ve got a checklist agenda and try to push through them as quickly as possible.

What are the consequences if some things don’t occur before this “hard deadline”?

In short: slog through it and track your progress. The hope is that checking off items on the to-do list gives you some small sense of accomplishment and helps to motivate you.

Also: TGIF!

I wish you the best. The new gig in 4 months sounds like the light at the end of the tunnel.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:38 AM on June 21, 2019

Response by poster: This is probably an additional ask and I don't mean to pivot, but what is one to DO in a five minute break? Workplace has no social media. Metafilter is almost as addictive, as I've learnt to my dismay. Pomodoro is no match for it.
Thank you so much for the responses so far.
posted by Nieshka at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2019

Best answer: The enormous amount of extra work is scaring me off even before I begin.

This has always helped me. So much so that I keep it printed out in my office.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Sit down, take a deep breath, and just do one thing. When you’ve done it, do one more thing. Don’t worry about planning breaks or anything like that. Just take it bird by bird.
posted by sallybrown at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

what is one to DO in a five minute break?

You can stretch, do stairs, read a downloaded ebook or pdf, draw, journal, etc. Look out a window. A lot will depend on your environment. For me movement is always pretty much best.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:49 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

what is one to DO in a 5 minute break

Back when smoking cigarettes was a thing, the answer was obvious. Cigarette breaks used to be remarkably social: at times there’d be 2-3-4 or more smokers, from any level of the company hierarchy, standing around and talking about anything.

Not sure if that still happens with vaping (and I’m in no way advocating for it).

Just a wild guess: get a cup of coffee?
posted by doctor tough love at 6:53 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

what is one to DO in a 5 minute break

just get up & walk around - maybe walk out to the front of the building & go once around the block

you need to be on your feet & away from your desk for it to count
posted by rd45 at 7:01 AM on June 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

what is one to DO in a 5 minute break

To reiterate - nothing on your computer. Walk, stretch, water, move some papers around on your desk, dance, etc.
posted by lab.beetle at 7:44 AM on June 21, 2019

what is one to DO in a five minute break?

I book two thirty minute spots in my day and go walk around (inside now because it is hot). One in the morning, work & eat lunch at my desk as I can get real work done, then one in the afternoon an hour before I leave. That's about 6-7K steps, no need to exercise in the evening, and best of all no one really notices since I go to different floors and departments, sometimes carrying my computer as if I'm going to a meeting.
posted by hillabeans at 8:02 AM on June 21, 2019

When tasks seem overwhelming (as many papers and projects in grad school do) I say that I only have to try for 10 minutes and then I can pick a new task or project. Sometimes this means just putting my name on a document and reading the rubric, sometimes this is looking up background info, sometimes reading articles etc. I think the key part is just focusing on one thing for the time. If you accomplish it, great! If not, we’ll at least you’re ten minutes closer to getting it done.

Often it’s the stress and fear of the unknown and how long the project will actually take. Once I know that it’s less scary
posted by raccoon409 at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of people are doing a great job with suggestions for time management, so I'm going to go for a bit of a sideways answer on non-work stuff.

It sounds like you have significant anxiety generally and definitely in this situation. Are you taking meds for that? Because if not, this could really help.

Other suggestions: arrange your evenings and weekends for maximum relaxation and self-care. Do you have an exercise routine? Taking walks or yoga at home? Swimming, running?
Get some time outside under the sky. Even if you're a vampire who hates the sun like me, it really does help. Do some stretching. Try to eat right - if you want ice cream, that's cool, but have greens for dinner, fruit for snacks, make sure you're getting enough proteins and whatever else.

With the five minute breaks, get away from your desk. Even if you go play a phone game, do it somewhere else, preferably outside. It doesn't count as a break if you're in your office with everything you need to do staring at you. Have a little snack, get a beverage, stretch a bit.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:25 AM on June 21, 2019

A five minute break is useless, IMO. Minimum ten, preferably fifteen. When I did Pomodoro, I did fifteen minutes on, ten minutes off. You can gradually increase the on time, but the off time has to be at least ten. Five minutes is barely enough time to use the restroom.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:21 AM on June 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the all the responses. Workplace took place of half the productivity issues by blocking Metafilter. Woe.
But really, thank you.
posted by Nieshka at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2019

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