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power points

Is there a White Rabbit frenzy to your life? “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” was the White Rabbit’s constant refrain in Alice and Wonderland – and in the life of Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs, which offers neuroscience information and coaching for career success. She continually worries that it is too late to achieve her goals – too late to publish a book, too late to start a company, too late to learn a new language.

She calls it time anxiety. It derives from a fear of missing out or failing to get started on a challenge when it more feasibly could be achieved. But it also is an obsession about spending your time in the most meaningful way possible.

On her website, she points to three variants:

  • Current time anxiety: The daily feeling of being rushed, which makes you feel overwhelmed and panicky. This can involve anxiety attacks if the day-to-day stress is too great.
  • Future time anxiety: Worrisome thoughts about what may or may not happen in the future. Your life revolves too often around “What if?”
  • Existential time anxiety: The sense of lost time slipping away and never to return. This can occur when thinking about death.

Time will move forward, and so will we. She says accepting that is the first step in reducing time anxiety. She also suggests defining what “time well spent” means to you. What makes you really happy? Don’t focus on the outcome, but the process by which it is achieved. “For example, don’t think about how happy it would make you to publish a book. Ask yourself if you really enjoy writing,” she says.

Eliminating time-consuming distractions is also helpful since those leave you less time for meaningful work. Conduct a quick audit of your time on social media, and consider how to trim it.

A related work anxiety can be productivity shame – the feeling you have never done enough or that you aren’t allowed to waste time on things that are unproductive. “Both of these are seriously harmful mentalities,” tech writer Stephen Altrogge warns on the Rescue Time blog. “When you can’t celebrate your accomplishments and can’t disconnect from work, you’re leaving yourself open to stress, overwork and burnout.”

It’s hard to avoid because our workplace culture promotes this feeling of inadequacy. And although shame is thought to be a motivator, he argues that it in fact crushes motivation and robs us of the joy of downtime. “Productivity shame creates a cycle of failure. You feel ashamed of not being productive enough, which causes you to be less productive, which causes more shame. If the cycle gets bad enough, it can be paralyzing,” he says.

He sets out three steps to avoid such paralysis:

  • Disconnect your self-worth from productivity: The prime cause of productivity shame is the belief your self-worth is related to how productive you are. Therefore, the more you get done the better you feel about yourself. So you need to sever the link between your to-do list successes and your identity. “If you judge yourself solely on the number of boxes you can tick off in a day, you’re either going to always feel productivity shame or end up only working on the wrong things (low-value, easy-to-do tasks),” he writes.
  • Set effective, realistic goals for yourself: If your goals aren’t realistic and achievable, you’ll operate under a perpetual cloud of shame.
  • Appreciate progress more than achievement: Recognize that small, incremental improvements will add up to big achievements.

If you are haunted by time anxiety or productivity shame – or both – your work life will have far too many painful moments. Consider whether these anxieties apply to you, and take action.

Quick hits

  • Should you cater to others or stay authentic? A series of recent studies suggests be sure to be true to yourself. It included analyzing 166 entrepreneurs in a fast-pitch competition; those who chose to cater to the judges rather than acting authentically had worse outcomes.
  • Few people will admit they were wrong in the past. But if they receive new information, they may act differently. Entrepreneur Seth Godin urges you to keep that formula in mind: It’s easier to persuade someone to make a new decision based on new information.
  • It’s a mistake in a covering letter to talk about why you want a new job. Instead, focus on what you add to the new company, offering specific examples, career advice writer Marjolein Dilven advises.
  • Is your résumé the flip phone of résumés? If you have been out of the job market for a while, executive recruiter Gerald Wash notes, your résumé will seem dated if it lacks links to your social-media profile on LinkedIn or Twitter, rambles on for pages rather than focusing on relevant skills, uses an out-of-date font style and comes in a Word document rather than PDF.
  • Consultant Scott Eblin says you need to add transformational listening to your day to build stronger relationships. He identifies three types of listening. In transient listening we’re so distracted with our own agenda and thoughts that we don’t actually listen. In transactional listening, a higher form, we’re focused on solving a problem or identifying a next step. The highest level is transformational: We’re listening with no other purpose than to connect and learn more about the other person or people.

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