Life Happens: When Personal Encroaches on Professional

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 | 0 comments

We’ve all had a bad hair day, but how many of us have also experienced a bad day at work simply because personal issues were crowding into our professional thoughts? (No need for a show of hands).

Life happens, no matter what deadline is looming or which task is causing us to freak out. Life doesn’t go away because of stress at work, it just continues to happen. Good and bad.

When personal and professional overlap, or collide, or simply fight each other for attention, it can be difficult to maintain focus. Sometimes it’s even difficult to maintain our professional, non-emotional demeanor. When these moments occur, and we find it impossible to work through them, it’s time to take a breath (and maybe a walk), clear our heads (and our desk), and refocus.

True professionals often appear to never allow personal issues to cloud their business persona, but rarely is that reality. They are better at pushing through the personal to focus on the business-at-hand, but to those who know them best it’s obvious when something’s wrong.

And maybe that’s the key. It’s OK for those who know you best to discern your angst, but it’s not OK for others in the office, or clients, to sense that something is wrong. If you are really that far gone, you shouldn’t be at work. Take a personal day. Take a sick day. Take a vacation day. But best practice would be to not bring personal issues to the office unless you can compartmentalize them during your work day.

Yes, many of us have close friends at work whom we confide in, but it’s best to save those quiet (hopefully) conversations for lunch – out of the office – or a phone call after work. Don’t add the burden of your personal issues on a well-meaning colleague, they have deadlines and tasks too.

We all have bad days, but if we can leave our most difficult personal issues at home, our professional life will be much more, well, professional. And focused.

Here are a few tips to get you back on track at work (when personal thoughts keep taking over):

  1. Fill a water bottle. (Stay hydrated, it helps!)
  2. Straighten your desk. (I wasn’t kidding above)
  3. Create a list of must-do’s for the remainder of the day.
  4. Close all unnecessary windows on your computer.
  5. Keep your business email open, but close your personal mail.
  6. Set your IM status appropriately (a sad face with a cryptic note, such as “Misery loves company” isn’t helpful).
  7. Stay away from Social Media where you might also be tempted to post a sad face (along with the words “Misery loves company”).
  8. Put on some happy music, or use headphones without music to give yourself some self-enforced privacy – whichever works best.
  9. Refrain from making or taking personal calls.
  10. Go to lunch with a group of happy folks or eat in your office (if you don’t want to talk one-on-one).
  11. Change your mindset. It takes effort but you can do it! After all, you’re a professional!

Do you remember the movie Over the Top? If you do, you will remember how Sylvester Stallone switches his baseball cap around when he enters the arm wrestling ring. It’s as if a change in his personality takes place as he turns the hat. This is what we need to do when we enter our work environment – we all need to “turn our hats” when we walk through the office door.

Bottom line: Set aside unique time for your personal and professional lives. And get a good hat. Good luck!

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