“Why does Michelle seem so distracted?”
“That last report wasn’t up to Jack’s usual standards.”
If your personal issues are leading your manager to ask these kinds of questions, it is time to acknowledge your challenge and take proactive steps to handle the situation.
For every 15 people on a team, 2 of them are likely in the midst of a major life hurdle such divorce, death, or a financial struggle. When I became one of those “two people” recently due to a sudden family crisis, I had to scramble. This event left me devoid of a routine, sprinting at some moments to problem-solve and sitting around at other moments, waiting. In that waiting time, these strategies came to mind:
Openness is Helpful; Oversharing is Not
Let your manager know that you are experiencing a personal challenge. Sharing a condensed version will prepare him or her for any moments of distractedness you may experience. They don’t need the details. A brief disclosure will prevent any speculation on their part. You may also find their support helpful.
Budget Your Mental and Physical Resources
These types of issues take a lot of mental space and create intellectual and physical exhaustion. Be realistic while your brain and body are under duress.
Many offices have an unspoken “no one leaves until the manager leaves” rule. Your situation may make following a rule like this impossible. Let go of imposing that expectation on yourself. Be up front with your manager about your plan for getting your work done despite schedule modifications.
Give yourself a few minutes at the beginning of the day to organize how you will allot your time. Knowing that you may need to squeeze in a phone conversation with your relative’s medical professional or run an errand will help you be proactive.
The companion theory to compartmentalization is: whichever side of your life you are dealing with at a particular time, be all in and present. If it is business time, do business. If it is “personal time”, do personal. I am not saying that you won’t face challenges of distraction, but knowing you are dedicating time to each piece of your life will help minimize that problem.
You are accustomed to assessing what resources are available to you and making the most out what you have, aren’t you? Apply the same resourcefulness you do at work to your non-work challenge. People want to help, but they may just need a specific assignment like preparing a meal or making a phone call.
Seek Out Resources
Find out what options your employer has. There may be benefits (flex time, for example) you were not aware of. Even when formal policies are not that flexible, be proactive in explaining to your manager what is going on and present a strategy to ensure you are still meeting your deliverables (even if your approach is less traditional than usual).
Fight the tendency toward tunnel vision. It is easy to forget (or not realize) what resources exist. Very rarely are you completely alone.
In Facing Grief: How and Why People Heal, the authors write “individuals who are able to … integrate their personal and work lives will emerge with greater commitment to their companies.“
The convergence of the professional and the personal rarely comes at a good time. If you are one of the “two out of every fifteen” wresting with a personal dilemma while juggling professional responsibilities, be kind to yourself. You’ll need the strength to help a coworker when it is their turn.