Sunday, May 3, 2009

Taking Care of Yourself and Managing Stress

I have been in the working world a long time. Every so often your boss
will suggest that you attend a half-day or whole-day seminar on "time
management" or "stress management." When I first took such courses,
they typically emphasized some practical time-saving tips. Over time,
however, these have evolved into sessions about how the press of overwork
isn't your fault, but you can't get angry--you just need to take care
of yourself better. "Relax, sing, soak your feet, buy yourself
something." {ref}

I am here to advocate a return to the former style. As a judging (and
judgmental) geek, I can readily see that it is illogical to try to
avoid stress by ignoring it. It does me no good to hear "Stress is
bad for you, so get rid of it!" There is, of course, concern that if
you aren't "nice" you may lose your job or your friendships or your
spouse. But, if you need to report a problem or stressful situation to
the significant people in your life, they had better be able to take
it. We just have to work on our ability to "break it to them gently."
Because geeks naturally do such a good job of time management, they
may need to be clued in that one can only keep so many plates in the
air at once (now known as "simultaneous multithreading").

It has been suggested that jobs that do not allow you any control are
the most stressful. For example, a secretary's job is more stressful
than a senior software engineer's. Some seminars suggest being
"proactive," implying that your company doesn't know what it wants you
to do, so you need to step forward and tell them. Your bosses will
know whether they like what you do or not, but they won't provide much
guidance. If you find yourself in such a situation, get out of
there. Your boss's job is to be the boss. If you want to be the boss,
start your own company. If you like working for a stovepipe
organization with several levels of management, by all means do
so. Work your way to the level that makes you happy and
satisfied. Find bosses (mentors) who will help you get there.


1. Try to maintain a cool head in a crisis. Well, try to emulate those
people you admire who can keep a cool head in a crisis.

2. Apologize (sincerely) if you have to. False apologies are worse
than none.

3. Although it takes time, keep significant people in the loop of what
is going on. This can be difficult for a person who would rather
work than communicate. Speaking from experience, frequent verbal
updates and progress reports can do wonders for your career. You
could be doing an incredible amount of work, but if the boss
doesn't know it, you won't be recognized.

5. Relax, sing, soak your feet, buy yourself something. (Maybe a nice single malt?)

Ref: "I'm Juggling as Fast as I Can," Denny Kercher, Chrysalis
Publishing, Lafayette, CO 2004