Thought provoking questions

I have been on about one job interview – every 10 – 14 days.

3 in January (one was a joke interview and I wasted my time – not to mention they wasted theirs)

0 in February

1 in March

5 in April

so far 2 in May. (I had a total of 4 in May 2015)

What I have noticed is a repeating trend in all of these interviews.

It seems that the most important recurring theme I’m asked about in one encompassing word:

Work stress

Now the questions come in various forms from

1. Tell me a time where you didn’t like a co-worker and you had to work with that person. What was the situation and how did you handle working with the person and what was the outcome?

2. Tell me a time at work where you had a heavy workload. How did you handle it?

3. If we gave you a special project to do and you knew you were falling behind what would you do, how would you handle it?

4. Often times we have a heavy workload where we need to juggle many things. How would you handle that?

All of these things have to do with communication, and prioritizing.

I have consistently answered all of the questions with the same response.

1. You must communicate to your boss or co-workers. Work stress is due to not communicating to them and it causes stress that could be eliminated if one just spoke up. If you work on a team, you must learn how to communicate with them either by email, phone or face to face. If you have completing deadlines that need to get done schedule a time to meet with the team (everyone including the boss) so you can discuss timelines and prioritize tasks together so it can all get done on time.  In order to get everyone together, you may need to go to your manager to arrange  the meeting.

2. This may be able to go under number 1. The second thing is ask for help with your workload. Ask your co-workers first. I was told on my last job that that everyone is given a large amount of work. After two weeks I saw it. Everyone had too much to do. Then I was told to ask for help. I was specifically told  that everyone tries to do all of the work on their own – and that is when people get burned out and fall flat on their face since they think they can do it all.  I was told “You can’t do it all, don’t try. Ask for help from someone”.  I was also told to say “What can I do?”  when I come in . This is part of working on a team. If you look at it like a football game, everyone has a job to do. Players may need to change the game plan and the other players need  to follow through and read the signs that are given to them so that everything works out. So not only do you need to ask for help, but you need to realized that you may be asked to help someone else with their workload if yours is less heavy .

3. Be reasonable with yourself.  Know your workload cap –  know what you can and can’t do in the course of a week/month. Of course, this goes back to number 1. Sometimes managers don’t know your entire workload. They know your job title and they are given some kind of sheet from Human Resources that outlines your responsibilities and by week 1 or 2 the manager should have gone over those responsibilities with you.  And in the real world, not all managers know how busy you really are.   If you are not new on your job and have been there at least 3 months – then you should know how much of a workload you can honestly do.  If you know for a fact that your workload is unmanageable , then it is time to ask your boss to prioritize your workload for you.

4. Learn how to prioritize. I’ve learned that some things will not get done in a certain amount of time. Some things are more important than others.

It is up to the person working to learn to have good judgement in deciding what needs attention NOW and what can wait.  Prioritizing work sometimes comes along with “multi-tasking”.   But “multitasking” is really just switching back and forth between what needs your attention.  Good judgement is needed to decide what to do first and what to do second  . .third, fourth. . .  If you know you have to do 1 before 5 then that is easy.  If you are new you may not know that 1 must be done before 5 AND you may not be TOLD that you must do 1 before 5 since sometimes managers don’t even know the proper workflow of the people they manage. I’ve worked on jobs where I was given duties that were not in my job description and I was asked from my boss “What are you doing and why are you doing that?”  I told them “I’m doing this since so and so (a co-worker) gave me this duty. It is listed in the book that I must get this done before the end of the month”.  What response did I get? The manager just shrugged her shoulders and said “Oh, I didn’t know you had to do that too”.  Well, I understand why. 2 other people shared in this one work duty and there were so many clients that 2 employees couldn’t do it all in one month. There had to be 3 people sharing in the duties. I was that 3rd person. And this had to be done every month.

5. Break down your workload into little pieces. Face your entire workload one thing at a time. Do one thing at a time. Tackle things as they come, but only one at a time. This way you move through your tasks. When you have a large workload you don’t look at it like “Oh my god, I have so much to do and only 8 hours today,what am I going to do I know I can’t finish all of this by X time”. What you do is break it down into little pieces and tackle one thing at a time. If you need to do something “now” and if it can’t wait, you do it. Don’t think about “I have to still process the mail and I have to do X at 4pm and then I need to check the status of Y at 4:30pm and then I need to do this at 5pm and then. . .” You loose sight of what you are doing right now and you may make a mistake at what you are doing NOW – since you are worrying about everything you need to do in a day, week or month.

If you think you can multi-task – think again. According to  Jim Taylor Ph.D.  “You and every other so-called multitasker  are actually serial tasking.  Rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks, you are in fact shifting from one task to another to another in rapid succession.   For example, you switch from your phone conversation to a document on your computer screen to an email and back again in the belief that you are doing them simultaneously. But you’re not.”

Did Jim Taylor mention about making a mistake? Yes, he cited an article from the National Academy of Sciences and that three Stanford University researchers found out that the ones that claim to be always multi-tasking – actually make more mistakes! “Those who rated themselves as chronic multitaskers made more mistakes, could remember fewer items, and took longer to complete a variety of focusing tasks analogous to multitasking than those self-rated as infrequent multitaskers.”

6. Write things down. Get organized.   I’m sure people don’t forget everything they need to do. . . .I write things down. I make it where I don’t forget what I need to do since I have a note pad of everything I am responsible for. I do this on every single job. I take detailed notes on how to do things. Once I am on the job long enough – I don’t need the notes – unless I need to do something new – I write it down on my note pad. Working memory only holds so much and I want what is in working memory to get into long term memory. I’ve read that short-term memory can only hold things for 7 seconds and if not acted upon it will be lost after only 15-20 seconds. I’m thinking if I read something – I may be able to be stored in long-term memory so I would be able to access it – and remember it more clearly.

I do an extra step in writing things down. I put things down in order of when they need to be completed. My last job I made an excel spreadsheet of everything I needed to do. I had days of the week at the top and time on the left side and I had everything mapped out of what I needed to get done. I had it all right in front of me. I’m sure if I had more complex things to do I may used Outlook to put things in my schedule. I’m not exactly sure what Outlook looks like for the schedule part – but I know what MS Project looks like and I really like the software. I used it for my Project Management Capstone class at University of Redlands. It allows you to  set a time period for each thing you need to do. One thing could lead into the next stage/life cycle (such as going from Start-up to Planning then Execution). So number 5 could be “Write things down AND get organized”. You can see one example here

7. When not at work – exercise and meditate. Find something you enjoy – have a hobby. Then when you are at work you know you have something to look forward to -when you are not at work. Don’t focus on your hobby or daydream about it when at work. Put it in the back of your head. Then when it is your weekend – focus 100% on your hobby and don’t think about work. This balance relieves stress from work. If you don’t meditate (I used the videos from Mooji on Youtube. You can find one here: ) then pray. It had been proven to relieve stress- but so does exercise.

If you don’t have some kind of hobby and you don’t find yourself doing fun things it will raise your stress level. I’m going to find the article I read (about 1-2 years ago) that said as humans – we need to have fun and if we don’t get it – we get very depressed and it adds stress. I find that interesting that someone had to do a study on that to come to that conclusion. We are social beings and as social beings – we need to do our activities around people.  I find that the more I’m around people the happier I am. (I’m not talking about being an extrovert or introvert). I’m only talking about being around people.

8. When at work remember to take your two 10 or 15 minute breaks. Smokers do them. Smokers take a smoke break each change they get. If they see a 5 minute time period where they can stop work to smoke- they don’t second guess it. They are out the door for a smoke – no matter if it takes them 8 minutes to walk to the smoke area and back (in addition to smoking) or not – it doesn’t matter.  Smokers make time for themselves.  If you are not a smoker – make sure you take your 10-15 break and do it twice in your shift. It breaks up stress in the office.  I used to be a smoker and I know how it was when I worked in a factory as a smoker. It was hard to get a smoke in when you have to be back on the line in 10 minutes, but in an office – not so. You CAN take a smoke break when working in an office. Don’t cut yourself short if you are not a smoker. Don’t allow yourself to do more work since you are not the smoker in your office.

9. Use comedy. Laugh at yourself. Don’t take things personally. It breaks up office stress if you can just take some time to laugh at yourself or tell a joke. I’ve been told from people that I have a good sense of humor (which I was unaware of in the past). I promise you, no one wants to work with someone that can’t take a joke and is too serious for their job.

I’m not sure if I covered all of the solutions,  but after reading so much on interviews, and after having so much experience in different jobs it all comes down to one thing. How do you handle stress on the job between your co-workers, your boss and your workload?