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Pill-popping your way to productivity? Take a breath
One does not become America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist without learning to function under extreme pressure.
I keep my mind sharp by eating brain food (doughnuts), exercising regularly (walking to get doughnuts) and managing stress through a pastry-based yoga routine I developed called Downward-Facing Doughnut. The hypercompetitive world of workplace advice delivery requires nothing less
Unfortunately, the hypercompetitive workplace world in general is leading some people to engage in less-than-Zen — and often downright risky — behaviors.
A recent New York Times story discussed the misuse of stimulants — drugs like Adderall, nor- mally prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — by workers in high-stress industries who are looking to get an artificial productivity boost.
The story cited a 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that found “emergency room visits related to nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among adults 18 to 34 tripled from 2005 to 2011, to almost 23,000.”
Per the story: “The agency also reported that from 2010 to 2012, people entering substance rehabilitation centers cited stimulants as their primary substance of abuse 15 percent more often than in the previous threeyear period.”
In the grand scheme of things, these numbers aren’t staggering. But they hint at some scary possibilities, ones that Anjan Chatterjee, a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote about in an opinion piece on The New York Times website:
“There are real worries about the increase of these drugs for work: They include the potential short- and long-term side effects of the stimulants; the potential mental trade-offs, such as the substitution of creativity for concentration; the erosion of character traits like persistence and dedication with pills as a quick solution; and coercion if brain enhancement was ever mandated.”
Chatterjee’s logic is that, just as reconstructive surgery evolved from a treatment for soldiers injured in World War I into the commonplace cosmetic surgery we see today, so could stimulants and other drugs evolve into what he calls “cosmetic neurology.” To which I say: Yikes! I can’t speak to the serious medical consequences of abusing prescription drugs, nor am I qualified to consider the medical possibilities or ethics of performance-enhancing workplace drugs.
But I can offer a common-sense opinion that the very idea of going down a road like this is bad. Also, not good. Perhaps even terrible.
If you’re in a job that puts so much pressure on you an artificial energy boost — something beyond a fourth cup of coffee — is even a consideration, you need to either leave that job or use my soon-to-be-patented advice: Take a breath and CYAD.
CYAD stands for “Calm Your (Expletive) Down.”
We have moved, thankfully, toward work cultures that embrace a balance between lives and careers. Not all companies are like that, of course, but that’s the direction in which we’re heading.
Still, some managers drive their workers too hard, and some workers drive themselves too hard, regardless of their company’s culture. I say to those managers and those employees: CYAD.
Work is important. It’s a critical part of our lives and our identities. But the moment we feel our natural energy and abilities aren’t sufficient to perform the task at hand is the moment we need to calm our (expletives) down.
Nothing is worth altering our minds and bodies just to get ahead. (For the record, I don’t consider doughnuts to be mind-altering, though taken in excess they may be slightly body-altering.)
If you feel overwhelmed, there are a few things you can consider, things we often forget are options:
It’s OK to say, “No.” If you’re already busy, you don’t have to take on more work and act like it’s fine. Just explain what’s already on your plate. A reasonable supervisor doesn’t want people overburdened, because that leads to mistakes and sloppy work.
Can some of your work be delegated to a coworker? People are often happy to lend a hand, particularly if you’re there to help them when they get bogged down.
Talk to the boss about delaying a deadline. The boss is, in most cases, a human being. Explain your situation, apologize if it’s your fault for taking too much on and stress that you want to do the job right without going crazy in the process.
If you’re a boss or manager who would be annoyed by someone using one or more of those options, then you need to CYAD.
Work is not about driving people into the dirt. Yes, there are deadlines. Yes, there are busy stretches when everyone has to go above and beyond.
But it behooves the people in charge, as well as the workers who are in charge of themselves, to recognize that there are limits, and when those limits are reached, people can make bad decisions. Resorting to prescription stimulants, or any other drug intended to keep you going, is a tremendously bad decision.
If you find yourself there, take a breath and CYAD. Work isn’t life, it’s work, and it’s not worth messing your life up over.
Now if you’ll excuse me, this column got me all stressed out. I need at least an hour of Downward-Facing Doughnut. TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at
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Resorting to any drug intended to keep you going is a bad decision. Work isn’t life, it’s work, and it’s not worth messing your life up over.