Get a Life

by Carol Lippert Gray
Financial Executive: For Today's Strategic Business Leader
May/June 2000

"I'm overwhelmed right now, leaving tomorrow for Europe, have no coping view". So wrote a financial executive in response to an e-mailed request to be interviewed for an article about stress in the CFO suite. Sound familiar?

Or how about this scenario: It's 11 p.m. and you're still checking e-mail or worrying about how many voice-mails are piling up. You start to shake and say, "There's got to be more to life than this."

Or you never see your kids awake, because they're asleep when you walk out the door and asleep when you come back in.

You get the picture.

"Fifteen years ago, people weren't as busy as they are today," says Ira Chaleff, managing partner at the Institute for Business Technology in Washington, D.C. "The sheer volume and multi-channels of the information economy are throwing us all out of whack."

Whack Attack
How do you know if your life is out of whack? The American Institute of Stress lists 50 common symptoms, including frequent headaches, jaw clenching or pain; tremors; muscle spasms; frequent sighing; diminished sexual desire or performance; excess anxiety; increased anger; depression; more minor accidents; social withdrawal; fatigue; and excessive gambling, self-medicating or impulse buying.

"You don't realize you're keeping the adrenaline on," explains Dr. Carole Stovall, a Washington, D.C. based psychologist and executive coach. "People miss work or dread going in. They dread getting out bed and oversleep. Performance that used to come easily now takes more effort. You feel you're doing poorly. Drug and/or alcohol use goes up. People may say you're more withdrawn, irritable, depressed, indifferent or accident-prone."

"Stress is different for each of us, but if you start to get a number of complaints you haven't had before, it could be affecting you," says Dr. Paul Rosch, clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College and president of the American Institute of Stress. "Try to identify the source. Your first obligation is to find out that the symptoms you think are stress-related don't have an organic cause. Then make a list of all the things — those you can do something about and those you can't — that are ticking you off. Things that are stressful for some people, like a roller coaster ride, are pleasurable for others. Meditation and jogging are great for some but boring for others. A Type A personality would be off the wall in minutes on a Caribbean beach. You have to develop some control over the situation; control is the key." For example, Rosch says, if your commute is what's driving you to distraction, look into flextime, working at home or using the time in the car to learn foreign language or listen to books on tape. If your boss gives you hives, can you get another boss or confront the one you have?

Chaos Theory
Chaleff has a client who works at the World Bank. "She controls billions of dollars worth of grants," he says — but in other areas, she's powerless. "Her office was a blizzard of papers. She was coming in most weekends and getting home at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. or later each night. Her voice-mail and e-mail were chock-a-block. Her work rules were developed for slower times. She has to let go of of them, and it's very emotionally difficult for her. But you'll just wipe yourself out if you don't adjust your work habits to the information age. The company is the bridge between human behavior and technologic solutions, so it behooves us toexamine how we use the resources around us to help us manage the workload. You have to change your own way of relating to technology. Otherwise it's a yoke, not a tool."

"Delegate or automate," agrees Jennifer White, A Missouri-based executive coach and author of Work Less, Make More. "CFO's have to give up things they were good at before to be good leaders. That can be very frazzling, very frustrating, because what you did before doesn't work anymore. You have to stop being the expert and give up the need to micromanage. You think you have to know the answer to every single question everybody brings up. But being a business partner is different from knowing all the answers, all the line items throughout the organization. That's why you have financial analysts — so you can be brilliant before the CEO or the board. Being one person vs. a billion-dollar company is too much pressure for any of us."

White suggests you "step back and decide what you want for your career and your life. Make rules you're willing to operate in. If that includes wanting to go horseback riding with your kids every Wednesday at three, write it into your calendar. Teach your people what to do and how to prioritize correctly to focus on activities that drive bottom-line results. Help people learn what to say no to, to drive the right results for the organization. It's possible to drive bottom-line results and get home in time for dinner."

Further, she says, "Don't just check things off your to-do list. Identify what it is about your work that really inspires you or gives you joy. Build more of that in. Look at all the stuff you're not that great at or don't enjoy doing and delegate it. It will give you energy. Look at other things in your life that make you feel safe or wonderful. Don't jam more into the day; take things out. It's like a bank. You can't make withdrawals every day; you have to make some deposits."

"The key to burnout is prevention," adds Stovall. "You have to be willing to put self-care issues into perspective. Get out of the office every day, even if it's only to get a sandwich or take a walk around the building. Getting up and moving breaks stressors. Sometimes you need to talk to somebody you're close to — or to a career coach or therapist — to design your priorities. Develop a clear sense of what's important to you. Use better time-management techniques. Put music on in your office, so you have control over your immediate environment. The longer the stress continues, the more your body is going to feel the effects and become prone to hypertension, heart disease and other ills. It also affects your quality of life. I've seen marriages end over this."

"There's no quick fix," Rosch warns. "You have to know yourself and your limitations, and have appropriate goals. But if you can't fight and can't flee, you have to learn to float."

© 2000, Financial Executive