Do you have an impossible job? An impossible job is a job where the scope of the work is so great that it is not possible to do all of the reasonable things related to that job. As an extreme example, if you are a busy emergency room doctor, there is no way you can do everything that you possibly can think of to evaluate every patient in the ER. Possible jobs are things like cashier in a store, mail carrier, things that have a defined set of tasks that should be possible to accomplish in the time available.
For whatever reason, a lot of folks we know tend to prefer impossible jobs. Maybe because they’re more exciting and interesting, but of course, a overly demanding job can also make one stressed and unhappy.
The key to an impossible job is recognizing that nobody can do all the work that falls within the scope of the job description. Thus, the central task is identifying priorities and separating the important from the merely urgent.
That is the reason why people with impossible jobs tend to have more interesting work: they get to, and in fact have to choose which tasks they are going to complete and which they are not going to complete.
In such a situation, what determines how stressed out and overworked you are is often more about what your internal and sometimes unconscious work habits are, rather than the actual pressure of work requirements.
We worked for many years with a very high powered executive in the construction field who complained of overwork and stress in the workplace. We discovered that there was a remarkable consistency in his level of stress. Whereas it seemed as though the outside world was imposing overwhelming demands on him, the fact was he always would accept tasks up to a certain level of over-capacity no matter how busy or not busy his company was.
In other words, his own internal sense of responsibility required him to tackle more projects than he really could handle, leading to his sense of constant overwork and distress.
At first we tried to help him find jobs that were less demanding, but it turned out that real success was achieved by coming to understand how, as a child, he learned that he was only “all right” if he was constantly pushing himself to achieve (or over-achieve) at a frantic pace.
If you have an impossible job and are feeling stressed out, here’s a thought: just do 5% less than you’re doing right now. In other words, think of the various projects and tasks that you need to do and eliminate 5% by choosing the least important and productive tasks.
This is a very small change in work load, but we think that you will find that you actually do better work and perhaps even get more real work accomplished if you go on this very slight work “diet.”
That business executive found that by just disciplining himself to work 5% less, he ended up eliminating the crises in his life that led him to change jobs every three or four years, and in doing so he was able to move further ahead in his career and feel happier and more fulfilled at work.