Managing yourself better at work

“If we can’t eliminate a particular stressor from our lives, then we must somehow learn to live with it.”

That’s probably one of my favourite lines from the US FAA’s study on shift work and scheduling. For one, I never thought I’d quote a research paper for a personal article. And two, I’ve heard this from my counsellor many a time during some of my most stressful moments because of work.

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In the passing of Stephen Hawking, one of his most insightful words circulated the web: “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” I believe that good work can always be done with dignity so I choose a workplace that does, too; and I always keep in mind to surround myself with people who share the same perspective. After all, you are the average of the company that you keep.

We all need to work and we all have different motivators that keep us working. But with work comes stress, and with stress comes the challenge of overcoming it.

Making sure your manager knows how to actually manage people is one thing, but sharing that responsibility to manage yourself is equally as important. Here are some of my personal techniques in being able to work better:

  • Ask questions until you no longer need to. The only surefire way to get answers is to ask. If you don’t know all the details at work, ask. If you’re not sure what the objective of a project is, ask. If you don’t understand why things are being run the way they are, ask. People around you are not mindreaders. If you don’t ask, you will never get a response.
  • Listen with genuine intention. Asking means you seek answers, and seeking answers means you are willing to listen. And not the kind of listening where half of your concentration is elsewhere — really listen, pay attention, and use whatever you’re learning to progress your work.
  • Don’t take criticism personally. If you do, it’s going to drive you crazy. Any feedback about your work is just that: about your work. It is impersonal and is aimed at making the quality of your output better. If the feedback is attacking you as a person (e.g. about your intelligence, physical appearance, personal problems) you will really know, which is why you should —
  • Establish boundaries and expectations. Whether in work or in life, knowing your limits and letting people know of them is a healthy way of earning respect and trust. When you are capable of letting people know what you can and cannot do, when you can and cannot work, and why you are or are not willing to do something, it makes communication easier and working with others more manageable.
  • Don’t burn yourself out by overworking. Working extra hours every now and then might be acceptable, but pushing yourself too hard to meet deadlines and show extra output? If constantly working past 40 hours a week (or whatever your industry’s legal standard is) is a lifestyle for you, it might not be your time management skills that need questioning. You can always look for a job after another, but abusing your physical, mental, and emotional health will be much harder to take back in the long run.
  • Take whatever failure you encounter with open arms. It’s daunting and horrible to think about failing. But all of us inevitably do, a lot of times at work since there is where we spend most of our time in. However, failing is a good thing if you choose to see it in such a way. Knowing that something doesn’t work is a great indication of knowing what not to do next time, and failure is one of the most helpful teachers in this regard.

We all encounter problems, issues, and conflicts at work. It’s never a bad idea to talk to your teammates and managers about what bothers you but always consider that there are two sides to every coin — whatever you’re unhappy or unsatisfied about at work, you can also work on by managing yourself too.