The number of hours in the day stays constant, but your to-do list is ever expanding.
You start the day worrying about how you'll get everything you need to do finished, and end it by worrying if everything you've accomplished is up to your standards.
Your daily stress is only interrupted by occasional spikes of anger at your colleagues, boss, or employees and their unreasonable expectations or inability to take some of this mountain of work off your plate.
Does this sound like you? If so, author and blogger Kelly O'Laughlin has some advice for you. Recently on the blog Quiet Revolution, which accompanies Susan Cain's hit book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, O'Laughlin shared the story of her friend who, like many entrepreneurs, found herself utterly overwhelmed by her work--so overwhelmed, in fact, that she was seriously considering quitting.
O'Laughlin had another suggestion, however. Don't leave; just care less.
You are probably trying too hard
Wait, what? How could phoning it in be good advice?
O'Laughlin points out that if you're the type to be so stressed about your work in the first place, your phoning it in is probably the same as others' measured consideration of the right level of effort. "If you relate to this story [of her overworked friend]," she writes, "I'm willing to bet that your 80 percent of effort is most people's 100 percent. So, by caring less, you're actually caring just enough."
Perfectionism, she goes on to say, isn't just bad for the perfectionist herself (though it can, of course, be miserable for those afflicted). Counterintuitively, it's also often bad for your work.
"It's great to want to be helpful and make a difference at work, but you have to take care of yourself first," O'Laughlin explains. "You aren't helping anyone if you burn out and quit. Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn't mean you don't care about your job; it means you care about yourself more."
She adds: "And here's a bonus: You might achieve more when you care less. When you reduce the pressure on yourself to attain perfection, you can flow more quickly and easily through your tasks. Trust that your intuition and experience will guide you. Freedom from the weight of perfection can be creatively liberating."
What's your 'minimum effective dose'?
O'Laughlin's prescription might seem heretical to some stressed-out strivers, but she's not the only expert urging those overwhelmed by work to take a long, hard look at whether their intense levels of effort are really necessary. Dr. Christine Carter, an author and happiness expert, has pushed a similar idea, the 'minimum effective dose.'
"We need to accept that more is not necessarily better," she has written. "The first step in dialing back the busyness of everyday life is to figure out your minimum effective dose of everything. Figure out how much time you actually need to spend on your email, going to meetings, driving your kids to their activities, etc., in order to be effective at home and at work."
Are you brave enough to try simply caring a little bit less?