This week’s author wishes to remain anonymous.
I work in a conservative office. We all wear suits and HR’s entire purpose seems to be only hiring people and assessing leave requests. So my boss and I have created a series of accommodations over time to handle my disabilities – autism, anxiety, and depression. These have morphed as some proved more effective than others. I want to share these with you, in the hope that you might take them and adapt them to what suits you. Let’s begin!
Trust Your Manager – If you’re told you’re doing a good job, that means you’re doing a good job. Try not to let paranoia get to you. If they’re unhappy with your work, you’ll know.
Stepford Time – It’s regarded as professional to portray a calm, happy image, even when other things are going on in your life. It’s not only about not talking about your personal life at work, but appearing like nothing negative is happening in your life. The concept is, the less your colleagues know, the less you’ll have to worry about them talking. It’s a small target approach.
Learn your pace – I write a summary of the tasks I hope to accomplish each day, and at the end of the day I write about my progress. This helps me assess how much I can reasonably get done in a day and avoid overloading myself. My boss does this with the whole team to help them build a sense of accomplishment. Every finished project is made step by step, day by day.
Pace yourself – Don’t be ad-hoc. Plan! Work sequentially instead of trying to multitask. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once to prove yourself. Working too hard will just lead to burnout. I started using a prioritisation matrix – is it important and urgent (do it), important and not urgent (defer it higher priority), not important and urgent (defer it lower priority), not important and not urgent (don’t do it). Break up big projects into little tasks. If you’re blocked on a task by another person, do something else, and they’ll get round to it. It’s okay to send a follow up email once a week for non-urgent tasks and more often for urgent tasks.
Balance – A need to prove yourself that goes too far can lead to overcompensation. This can contribute to mistakes. If you aren’t absolutely sure what’s going to happen, don’t do it. If it’s outside your zone of responsibility, don’t do it. Don’t try to be the hero. There is no ‘just this once’. In the corporate environment, doing things the right way is a crucial step to doing the right thing. When you overcompensate, there is a real danger you will ignore long-standing procedures and channels of communication. This has been called ‘fast-unsafe’. When you feel this happening, take a step back and don’t do it.
Processes – Follow established agreed-upon processes. Don’t embrace false efficiency. Make sure that everyone that should be in the loop is in the loop. Being methodical helps prevent mistakes. Create checklists and procedure documents for your regular tasks and follow them. Print them out if that’s what you need. Design your work process to help reduce the risk of errors. Prevent mistakes with better planning if you have a coordinating or managing role.
Write it down – Instructions should be written in an email as much as possible to prevent miscommunication. Any verbal instructions are repeated, said first by my boss, then by me as I type them down and clarify. This also creates a paper trail which can be very useful. Always remember that you can ask for clarification. Unfortunately in a corporate environment, bad memory will be treated like dishonesty.
Take Your Time – If you haven’t finished a task yet, your manager would rather know than receive something incomplete. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. You’re not going to be punished for saying no, but they will be irritated if you say yes and it’s not true. Set priorities, but make sure you don’t over index on prioritising and miss things because you weren’t careful enough to check or pay attention to everything you should. This is something you will learn over time.
Breathing Exercises – Another method is to calm the flight/flight/freeze response with active breathing exercises when something has the potential to go wrong. If you’re working on something delicate, it’s well worth taking the time and staying calm.
Stress Test Yourself Sensibly – Learn how to handle a heavier workload by setting yourself earlier deadlines than given to you and consistently meet them. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone outside work and control your reaction when you start to feel uncomfortable.
Bat Signal Of Last Resort – If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, low or anxious, it is more likely you’ll do something foolish. My boss and I have agreed I can leave the office to a place where colleagues won’t see me for a short amount of time, and my boss will cover for me as long as I write the word ‘cat’ in our chat client. ‘Lion’ is more serious and means someone will come to help me and talk me down. It’s important that you leave the office as soon as you feel low, and don’t yield to those feelings where it can be seen.
Error Handling – As my boss puts it, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as the same mistake doesn’t happen regularly. The way you handle it is the difference between being regarded as professional and damaging your brand, which will impact your ability to stay and progress. You’re being paid to do a job so you need to tell your boss if you’ve messed up. You can’t be unwilling to admit you’ve made a mistake. There’s no ‘being afraid to trust’ at work. Apologise then rectify the mistake. Remember, you were hired because you’re capable, but no-one is perfect. A tip which I didn’t initially like but have come to appreciate, is that if you keep a certain level of emotional detachment from your work, you’re less likely to make mistakes, because it will reduce over-enthusiasm, another cause of mistake making.
However, there are obvious mistakes such as not waiting for sign-off for tasks that require sign-off, not telling your boss when you’ve made mistakes, deleting things in content management systems (use the un-publish feature) and not following up on urgent tasks.
A good way to explain things when you make a mistake goes like this:
– Here’s what happened.
– Here’s how I handled it.
– I was wrong in how I handled the situation. Here’s why.
– It’ll never happen again (…because…)
– Here’s what I learned.
Whether or not you are a terrible person is irrelevant, and if you’re told that, know that it’s inappropriate, unprofessional and untrue. What’s relevant is: what should I do in this situation? Have I done something wrong? If I have, how can I make it right so that everyone involved can move on? Show your boss that you’re working on improving your decision making.
This appears very involved, but over time it will begin to feel natural. It works for me, but I’m aware you may want to adapt it to whatever suits you. Thinking about these things and making adjustments helped me in the workplace, as I hope it’ll help you too.
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