How to Deal with Worry at Work

Whenever you’re in the middle of big changes at work, you may find yourself worrying about what might happen. Whether you’re facing a reorganization, layoff, or even a process change, worry at work zaps your energy and robs you of productive time.

Worry at Work Destroys Productivity

Not too long ago, I worked on a small team in a large company. Our executive sponsor had left the company unexpectedly. We weren’t sure we would see the same level of support from the person who would take her place. I was still fairly new in my role and struggling to find my footing. I had just conducted an internal job search under similar circumstances in another department. Company policy prevented me from applying for another transfer so soon. I was convinced that my position would be eliminated, and that I would be caught unprepared.

My productivity plummeted while I waited… and waited. And waited some more, for an announcement about who would be taking over our department. This went on for months. My stress level heading into the holiday season was at a fever pitch. And my performance in my role was, frankly, abysmal. How could I be effective when I spent so much time playing and re-playing “what-ifs” in my head?

Finding Time to Worry at Work

One day, I sat myself down for a difficult conversation. While I couldn’t control the executive search process, the hiring decision, the timeline, or the attitude of the new executive, there were some things I could control. Specifically, I could control how I structured my time, how much I accomplished, and my own attitude. Still, some part of me felt that if I didn’t worry about the unknowns, I couldn’t prepare myself emotionally for the horrible events I was anticipating. In other words, I wasn’t ready to completely let go of the worry.

I decided to try a compromise. Rather than spending all day worrying, I set up a recurring appointment with myself from 4:30 to 5:00 PM each weekday. The subject of the appointment on my calendar? “Worry”

Making Time for Everything Else

This sounds ridiculous, and it is. If you think about it, it’s no more ridiculous than worrying without a schedule. When I couldn’t get anything done at work all day because I’m worried about what might happen later, I’ve wasted a whole day.

But every time I started to worry at work, I would tell myself, “Remember our agreement? I agreed to only worry about that from 4:30 to 5. It’s now 8:30. What can I get done right now while I’m waiting to worry?” And I’d start working on something. Then after lunch, same thing. “Nope, can’t worry for another four hours. What can I get done while I’m waiting?”

And do you know what happened? I got a good seven and a half hours of work done that day.

Then, when my 4:30 meeting alert popped up, I got all settled in to worry.  After about two minutes, my brain said, “Well, this is stupid. I’m not going to spend 30 minutes worrying about that.” So I moved on, and managed to get another 28 minutes’ worth of work done!

It worked so well on Monday, that I tried it every day that week. By the end of the week, I had stopped worrying completely.

One of my coworkers called me the next Monday to commiserate. “What are we going to do if they eliminate our jobs in November?” I told him about my scheduling trick and asked him to try it. It worked for him too!

Procrastination Works Too

Maybe you’re a free spirit, not tethered to Microsoft Outlook’s constant demands. There’s still a way to make this work for you.

How many people do you hear procrastinating exercise? How many people procrastinate going on a diet or paying their bills or talking to their financial adviser or signing up for life insurance? All of these things we don’t want to do, we procrastinate.

Try to procrastinate worrying. Tell yourself, “I’ll worry about it later. I’ll worry about it someday.” Or, “I’ll worry about it on Monday, when I start my diet.”

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