April is Stress Awareness Month, a good prompt to reflect on the impact of stress on career. Day-to-day stress is expected, and some stress can be good for you. However, too much stress can impede your focus and keep you from reaching your career goals. Here are five ways to keep work stress at bay:
1 – When you want to ask for a raise or promotion but you’re too stressed to promote yourself properly
I see this scenario a lot with my hardworking clients: they are too stressed and overwhelmed with their day-to-day job to properly prepare for their performance review, build critical relationships across the company, and otherwise promote themselves. They are too bogged down by today’s responsibilities to move into a better tomorrow. Don’t let your current job derail your future career prospects .
Block out a few minutes every day for your future career activities. Schedule it right on your calendar, so the time comes up without you having to think about it and so no one else can take it – 15 minutes to start and some of your lunch hours. Use the time to nurture your network – e.g., interact with colleagues you don’t see day-to-day, develop senior relationships outside your immediate boss, and maintain contact with people outside your company. You can also prepare for your performance review or raise/ promotion request (which doesn’t necessarily need to coincide with your official review). Or use the time to refresh – e.g., take a walk, grab a privacy room and meditate.
2 – When you know your job isn’t right for you but you’re too stressed to think of alternatives
Ideally you don’t make career decisions when you’re stressed and not thinking clearly. However, say you have already decided that your current job isn’t right for you, but you’re too stressed to come up with alternatives. Don’t just wait till you can’t take it anymore and quit without a job. There is only one good reason to quit your job, and stress isn’t it.
Instead, take the next 30 days to focus on this fun two-part exercise: 1) make a list of things you love to do; and 2) do as many of these items as possible without breaking your budget. The love-to-do items are personal, not professional – e.g., places you like to go, favorite restaurants, books you have been meaning to read, even daily treats like a special coffee drink or fresh flowers at your desk. For the next 30 days, just do your job and check off as many items on your list as you can manage. This exercise seems to have nothing to do with your career, and it doesn’t directly, which is why most people can do this without too much pressure. However, when you’re stressed, taking really good care of yourself is actually the most helpful thing you can do for your career because it puts you in the right frame of mind to think clearly of next steps.
3 – When you want to leave your job but you’re too stressed to look elsewhere
After 30 days of treating yourself, you will remember how to enjoy life again – I call this, flexing your passion muscle. Now that your passion muscle is stronger, you will start to get ideas on professional things you love, not just personal items. Still, the thought of launching a job search while juggling your busy, soul-sucking job might still stress you into inertia.
Don’t think of your job search as additional to your current job. Start to replace your current job with job search activity. Similar to blocking out time for your raise or promotion efforts, block out time for your job search right into your work day. Start with 15 minutes daily, include some lunch hours, and steadily increase. If you’re committed to landing a new job, you’ll need time during regular business hours for interviewing, so start training your boss and colleagues not to have access to you at all hours of the day. In addition, your work day hours are likely your most productive time, so you want some of that time for your highest career priority, not just maintaining the status quo.
4 – When you finally launch a job search but you’re stressed and overwhelmed by all you need to do
Okay, so you now have your 15-minute increments blocked out on the calendar but what do you do with it? You are interested in many things. Your resume hasn’t been updated in years. You haven’t kept in touch with anyone. A simple online search yields hundreds of job postings, but like your Netflix queue, there are simultaneously too many things on offer but nothing you really want.
I see too many job seekers let the stress of a job search dilute their efforts by doing everything at once and none of it well. Instead of going after everything at once, give yourself one to two weeks to explore just one interest at a time. During that exploratory period, you research that area, focus on your connections in that area only, update your resume with that area in mind, and review job postings filtered for that area. With a bit of concentrated effort, you’ll know if you should continue or drop it for your next idea. If you like the area enough, maintain your research and networking efforts, but add another area of interest as your primary focus for the next time period. Like spinning plates, within the next 30-60 days, you’ll have covered several areas of interest and be able to maintain all of them by getting them going one at a time.
5 – When your job search isn’t going well and you’re too stressed to fix it
Even if your job search starts out thoughtfully and well-planned, it will have ups and down. Your networking outreach isn’t returned. Your interview seems to go well, but you aren’t called back. Your callback seems to go well, and you’re qualified but still don’t get the job. Don’t let the inevitable stress of the job search keep you from identifying how to fix it.
Before you get too busy into your job search, build in stress-busters and troubleshooting support. Have a mentor or coach accessible to help you work through what is wrong. Designate a friend (the cheerful one, not the cynic) to keep you motivated. Track your job search efforts– people you have contacted, openings you have applied to — from the start, so you have data to review and help pinpoint where you might be going wrong.
Work stress is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Keep your career priorities in sight, and take one action step, however small, to keep stress at bay and your career progress moving forward.