Work Stress and How I Handle It (as a Consultant)? #10

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Research conducted by mind (the mental health charity) has found that:


People are stressed from work more than even financial and debt-related problems.


What an eye-opener?


Consulting like many professions is known to have a demanding working culture and poor work-life balance. This inevitably adds to the stress and anxiety.


Going back to the aforementioned study, only 20% of the people suffering from stress would go on to take a day off sick. They’d also cite other reasons for their absence.


I guess calling in sick because you feel stress or overwhelmed is still seen as taboo!


Before I share how I handle stressful days/weeks, it’s key to understand the causes of stress. Simply understanding the trigger for stress can help in dealing with them effectively.


There are broadly two kinds of stress: Eustress and Distress. Eustress allows us to thrive and helps us stay motivated. Distress, on the other hand causes an overwhelming feeling. 

In This Week’s Blog, I Want To Share The 3 Main Causes Of (Di)Stress And How I Deal With Them:

#1 Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work and tight deadlines


#2 Difficult relationships with key stakeholders


#3 Ambiguity in the work


Let’s dive into each of these reasons:

#1 Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work and tight deadlines

I’ve found this to be the #1 reason that contributes to the distress; finding myself with too much work to deliver in too little available time.


As an analyst at the start of my career, I often felt overwhelmed in these situations. I’d often resort to working longer hours to catch up. This had a knock-on impact on my work-life balance, and I felt that I lacked control over this.


Going through my day, with a good checklist only to have some urgent work unexpectedly thrown in. And then realising that another evening has gone to accommodate these requests is a scenario too often seen in consulting.


However, this is a bad strategy! There’s a limited amount of time in the day, and you can’t possibly do everything, right?


As I’ve grown through my career, I’ve learnt to manage my workload effectively. This is by ensuring that I have a system in place to manage my core emails and calendar. See blog here and here.


Once I’ve managed these two items, it’s typical to find slots in my diary in which I can focus on my “Next Actions”.


If an urgent request then lands, it either impacts the priority I’m currently working on or it becomes the next item on the priority list.


Sometimes it isn’t urgent enough for what I’m doing currently and gets pushed back.

The longer you stare at a molehill, the sooner it'll start to feel like a mountain......💭

Truly understanding what I need to prioritise takes a lot of skill. This includes the fact that I have to say:


“No, I am unable to accommodate” to “okay, I can accommodate, however this will have a knock-on effect on X”


It’s worth remembering that each time a request has to be dealt with urgently, the sheer fact that it needs “dealing with” makes our brain start feeling overwhelmed.


Although in reality, it’s something that can be dealt with if we just spent 5-10 minutes defining how to tackle it.


The longer you stare at a molehill, the sooner it’ll start to feel like a mountain.

#2 Difficult relationships with key stakeholders

It’s in our inherent nature to be well-liked and appreciated. Unfortunately, sometimes we all have to deal with difficult stakeholders that questions this notion.


More often than not, these difficulties improve with time; however, there are also scenarios where the difficulties never go away. This causes strained relationships and feelings of stress each time we have to interact with these individuals.


Depending on the seniority of these stakeholders, it gives the feeling of being constantly under the spotlight.


This doesn’t just happen with the leaders but could also happen with the subordinates, again where it feels like you’re not being listened to. This’ll naturally lead to feeling overwhelmed.


If you’ve ever faced this situation, let me tell you; this doesn’t last forever and over time just gets easier as your response to this person adapts.


But this doesn’t mean, you should continue to suffer. Whenever a situation like this has arisen for me, I’ve made an effort to understand the concerns of this stakeholder and addressed them.


Alternatively, speaking with a colleague , who may have a better relationship to intervene in some of the meetings for support, can also help. 


When the relationship with the person feels strained, keep the meetings and interactions factual rather than airing any personal complaints.


This is no doubt a difficult situation to manoeuvre, but it’s one if carefully handled can be help lower the stress levels.

#3 Ambiguity in the work

This is far too common in consulting, too many requests with tight deadlines without setting clear expectations.


This generally impacts the team morale and makes the person responsible feeling overwhelmed and rushed.


The issue here isn’t that the request is ambiguous, it’s that the requestor themselves don’t know what’s needed. Too many times, people don’t know what they want except a faint vision of the outcome.


The best way to deal with this (instead of freaking out!) is to provide a somewhat unambiguous outcome. Basically, working with whatever limited facts are available, creating a strawman, minimum viable product, and creating a couple of slides that address the fundamental challenges.


This can always be iterated once presented. Starting from scratch is much harder than refining an initial thought process.


I find that these requests cultivate a resilient mind as it allows you to solve tough problems with less available information.


Here, I’ve only covered work led stress, of course, other things exacerbate the stress levels.


This can include dealing with family problems and other life crises. It’s important to forgive oneself and take regular time away from work to deal with the day to day issues of life.


As mental health starts to impact physical health very quickly!


It’s a marathon, not a sprint!


If you’re still reading this, I hope you’ve found some value out of this blog post.


If you’d like to be kept informed of more content like this, subscribe to my newsletter.


Feel free to reach out to my email [email protected], if you have some feedback or just want to say hello!


Also, check out my other blog on: The Top 3 Reasons Why Continuous Improvement Is Better Than Delayed Perfection


And what is the one thing you have learnt from this blog?

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Hanzala Qureshi

Hanzala Qureshi

I’m a digital consultant at a leading consultancy firm. I mostly spend my life working on complex data projects. On this website I document my journey in consulting and thoughts on data & emerging technologies.

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