Cultivating detachment at work
April 26, 2022 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I spend my work day in a state of low-level harried irritation. While I look for another job, I'd like to cultivate a more detached relationship to work.

I have a fast paced job that I don't have a lot of agency in and I'm really pretty fed up with the role (and, by association, most of my coworkers). I spend my day in a constant state of low level irritation and always feel behind and like I'm not doing my best. I am a people pleaser by nature but I simply don't have the time to please everyone.

Typically I have a pretty good work-life balance but recently I find myself really wiped out at the end of the day from going full speed all day long, which impacts the energy I have to do things outside of work. I'm really not okay with that and I'm comfortable doing a bit less well at work if it means I have more energy for other stuff (I am considered a fairly efficient and hard worker I think, so I have some leeway). But I need help figuring out *how* to do less without triggering anxiety about being behind.

While I look for another job, I'd like to work on emotional detachment. Log in, get as much done as a reasonably efficient human can get done, be aloofly pleasant but stop stressing myself out trying to please everyone, log out, collect a paycheck.

So-- what do you do *during the workday* to emotionally detach when you feel stressed or irritated or overwhelmed?

Do you have routines or habits that help you feel less harried... even if you get a little less done than you might if you really went at 100% all day?

I'm work from home, which I feel like opens up a lot of options. Do you have environmental things that you do while you work from home that help you feel calm and collected?
posted by geegollygosh to Work & Money (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
You don’t have agency, but do you have responsibility? Does the buck stop with you? If not, that’s honestly ideal. Something goes wrong? Doesn’t really matter, in the end it’s not my problem!
posted by raccoon409 at 5:59 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I pause during the workday to do a 20-minute yoga video, or walk outside for 20 minutes. (Or I try to, in my role there is always more work than I can do in a day, and it's easy to get caught up in it.)
posted by Lycaste at 6:07 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am working on this as well. One thing I’ve committed to doing consistently for a while is meditation - once for sure in the morning before I start my work day, and then as needed during the day if I feel my irritation or negativity peaking.

It really does help. Get Headspace - it removes a lot of the friction with getting started, and it teaches you the basics.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:08 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Journal about the problems. You can write in quick bullet points.
posted by saturdaymornings at 6:13 PM on April 26, 2022

Meditating for 10 min before I start work seems to help. I also deliberately step away from the computer -- eat lunch, eat a snack. Set a timer for your breaks and don't short change yourself.

I like having a physical representation of whatever mindset I'm trying to cultivate on my desk. I have a little crab figurine that's holding up a pen (as if it were big and mighty, but it's um, just a small crab and it's just a pen). Whenever I look at that, I feel like I am like the little crab. I may be small, but I can also be mighty. I know this doesn't sound super motivating, but it somehow helps me recognize what I'm in control of and what I'm not in control of. Your mileage may vary on what resonates with you.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:23 PM on April 26, 2022

While you are working are you getting emails or slack/trillian/messages of some kind?

I used to read ever email as soon as it hit my inbox but I’ve started logging out of email after my initial morning check. This only works because my workplace culture is strongly oriented towards emails. We do use an instant message system but it’s usually reserved for truly urgent issues.

Also really trying to lean into the idea of working at a slower pace. Haste makes waste. Sometimes I’ll listen to music while working. Sometimes I go for walks.
posted by MadMadam at 6:29 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

OMG you’re totally me. Here’s things I did
- stopped imagining people were secretly mad at me for being “behind”
- gave realistic deadlines, updated when I was falling behind
- released myself from guilt (everyone else just seemed to shrug when late, why do I have to carry the world?)
- micro analyzed the shame triggers my boss was pressing so I could one by one make peace with them and let them go. One big one: feeling the need to present as smarter than I am. Sorry dude I wish I was amazing but I’m just average!
- said a positive “oh gee I really want to do that, what should I set aside” (aka NO) when asked to over book myself
- stopped caring if people liked me at work (they’re children anyway)
- decided to go in ok with getting fired / live each day like it’s your last
- meditation before going inside the door
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:32 PM on April 26, 2022 [21 favorites]

This article on expectation setting is a quick read which I found helpful.

And this is a complementary article on time management.

And this article includes my favorite story about Edward W. Deming trying to help a company improve.

Now, I am not trying to foist platitudes on you. I realize it's hard. The only period of my career I was a manager (for about 8 years) I was on 24 hour call, plus attending meetings and managing my staff and the in progress projects and deadlines. But you do seem to be asking about how to maintain detachment and stop stressing out. In my current position I am an SME (subject manager expert) on a variety of topics, and also (like you) work remotely. I find that helps, but also I keep in mind some of the concepts presented in the above articles when asked to do the impossible. The other person may not listen, but it's not your job to make them listen.

One last point. In that management position I was in many years ago, if the person felt I was being unreasonable I would respectfully disagree and suggest to them that they "take your case to your your boss, and your boss can talk to mine, who can talk to me... that's the best I can do for you."
posted by forthright at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

It’s almost annoying how much ten minutes of yoga or a twenty minute walk makes me feel better about my day!
posted by MadamM at 7:52 PM on April 26, 2022

I recently started using a timer to remind myself to look away from the screen and focus on something outside my window every 20 minutes, like the eye doctor always recommends. I did it because my eyelid had been twitching for a MONTH, and I was losing my mind. When the timer goes off (and I’m not on video), I look out the window, find a focus point, and take a few deep breaths.

Regularly physically detaching from the screen and keyboard for a minute helps me detach mentally as well, by grounding me back into my surroundings. (And whether the incessant twitch was from eye strain or overall stress, that’s better now, too!)

Also - if you have any pets: I find quick breaks to play with my cats can be a good way to get out of my inbox and back into my body for a few minutes.
posted by moonbeam at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2022

My first thought is setting reasonable goals for yourself, but I think the area that might be most helpful is specifically around making others happy. You've got an idea right now that the only good response to "can you do X" is "yes" (and possibly "yes, here it's already done!") But you are seeing yourself getting irritable and you're seeing the problem that causes, on top of any quantifiable delays or issues... What if you set your goal for the day to be kind, rather than to be perfect? If the honest answer to whether you can get something done is that, no, you're swamped right now, most people get kind of mad for having to admit they can't do everything, or they get mad at the person for asking for the impossible from them. Instead, when that happens, can you feel compassion for the person and be kind in telling them the disappointing truths?

Just a thought - a different axis to achieve on, kindness rather than completion, might be achievable and lead to a better work environment all around.
posted by Lady Li at 12:13 AM on April 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you have people-pleasing tendencies, I think that's the thing to focus on. It's so easy to get into a cycle of trying to please people, imagining you're falling short and that they are mad at you for it, and then resenting them for being mad. When they might not even be mad at all!

Oddly, one thing that has really helped me in situations like this, where I constantly felt behind and vaguely like people were disappointed in or frustrated with me, was to set some reasonable goals with someone else. Ideally this is your supervisor. This could look like setting priorities in your weekly check-in, or every morning sending them a list of 1-3 things you want to get done that day. If you have a good, supportive manager, I suggest doing this. However, I'm guessing you don't, or you wouldn't be under this much stress. In that case, I'd do this with a work buddy, or even just yourself. Make those priorities/tasks your north star.

Remember: you are only one person and you can only control what you do, which is probably a pretty small part of a larger whole.

The other thing that has helped is really internalizing the idea that "other people's opinions of me are none of my business." Honestly, this internalization has come with time. When I was younger in my career, I thought if people were frustrated or annoyed with me, it could ruin my career. Now I think about all the people I've been annoyed by, and most of them are doing fine! I'm doing fine too! People miss deadlines or forget to do things, and other people get annoyed, and life goes on. (I spent the first decade of my career with unmedicated ADHD, so I unfortunately got a lot of experience with this.)

In terms of working from home, walking my dog at the beginning and end of the work day probably gives me the most sense of boundaries between my work life and my "home" life. Once I get home from walking the dog, it's time to make dinner, and then by the time I'm doing that I am very much not in work mode. Pre-COVID, I usually had plans in the evening 3-4 times a week, which also helps a lot (working back up to that!). Really anything that puts a pin in the day and lets your body know you're done.
posted by lunasol at 9:32 AM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

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