Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Pill-pop­ping your way to pro­duc­tiv­ity? Take a breath

- Rex W. Hup­pke

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.

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