Work, Stress, and Goofing Off

Well, we have our software "finished", and it's a full week ahead of the deadline. I expect smooth sailing for the next week or so, which will finally give me some time to get back into a normal work schedule and to focus on some longer-term goals instead of the crisis-of-the-hour.

The last couple of weeks have been very stressful and tiring. I've been working long hours, and I've been working to solve many last-minute problems. I haven't taken it all in stride: I've lost my temper a couple of times, and I'm constantly thinking about just quitting without notice. However, I haven't fallen apart, and I have been detached enough to reflect a bit on how I react to stress.

I think I prefer to handle stress in a different way from most people. Most people, it seems to me, try to handle stressful situations through escapism. That is, they try to psychologically distance themselves from the stress by distracting themselves with unrelated activities. They play ping-pong, they go for a run during lunch, they watch DVDs, they do anything they can to temporarily forget about the source of stress. This is popularly known as "blowing off steam", and most people think it works for them.

I am different. When confronted with a stressful situation, my reaction is to focus intensely on whatever the problem is until it is solved. Instead of distracting myself with other things, I want no distractions whatsoever. By focusing on one particular problem, I can temporarily forget about every other problem in my life.

Because of my intense desire to eliminate the problem, I see "blowing off steam" as a waste of time. Every minute I spend doing something other than my work is another minute that I have to worry about the problem. I'm sure many people would see this as an unhealthy outlook, but I just can't make myself ignore a serious problem.

I don't think there is anything wrong with my way of dealing with stress, but it does seem to be incompatible with everybody else's way. When things get rough, I want to eliminate every distraction. I want to close my door. I want people to leave me alone. I don't want to talk to anyone about matters not related to work. I want to go into work very early and leave very late because I value the quiet of the early morning and late evening hours. When I need to leave my office, I walk very quickly and avoid eye contact with people because I have something to do and I don't want anyone to interrupt me. I don't want to commiserate with others in the same situation; I just want us all to do our jobs.

My desire for focus is so strong that it bothers me when people just want to say "Hi, Kris". It's even worse when people start asking "What's wrong?", "Why are you working so hard?", "Do you need any help?", or suggesting that I need to chill out, go home early, or take a few days off. They don't understand that locking myself in my office and working actually makes me feel much better than I would if I was trying to blow off steam the way that they do. They just think I'm wound up really tight and that I'm about to snap.

Unfortunately, I don't know a polite way to ask people to let me do my work in peace. Avoiding idle chit-chat is considered to be rude. Responding with "no, I'm busy" every time I'm asked whether I want to go to lunch, play a game, or go to an after-work party is leading my friends and colleagues to think I don't like them anymore. Keeping my office door shut seems to be the only socially acceptable way to prevent people from interrupting me, but that makes me physically uncomfortable due to the heat generated by all the equipment in my office.

A benefit of my way of handling stress is that I really don't have to work very long hours. I have a couple of intense two-or-three-hour work sessions a day (early morning and after hours), with some milder hours in the middle of the day while other people are in the office and need my attention. There is no sense in working really late, because my intense focus causes my mind to turn to mush by the end of the day and so I go home at 8 or 9 o'clock at the latest. In contrast, I see other people working 12- or 14-hour days, with lots of ping-pong, video games, and pizza breaks to keep them from losing their minds. For the same reason, I never work more than a few hours over the weekend, no matter how much work I think I have to have done by Monday morning. In contrast, I know a few "relaxed" people who work seven days a week.

A took a year off from work a little while ago. During that time, I was much happier, and I thought I had learned how to relax under any circumstances. I now understand that when I have work to do, I just can't relax. The best way for me to deal with stress is to work hard and then go home when I'm done.

Some managers pride themselves on the fact that they've made their offices "fun" places. That is, they let people goof off as much as they want, as long as the work eventually gets done. For people unlike me, I guess that's a good thing. But for me, a "fun" place to work would be one where everybody focuses on work all the time at the office, but then everybody goes home at 5 o'clock and never has to work on Saturday or Sunday. Some people think work can be fun, but I think having one's work finished is a lot more fun.

© 2003-2023 Kristopher Johnson