How to Be Productive in Existentially Stressful Times

Micro-control inoculates you against career stress, even when the future is weird and precarious

Tanya Edwards
Published in
4 min readJul 27, 2020


Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Whether it’s the unemployment numbers, work-Slack-channel chatter, or the general state of things that’s feeding your anxiety, if you’re a human being with a job in the year 2020, you’re likely feeling concerned about your employment future.

The first time I was laid off — from what I thought was a dream job at a television network — I was devastated. I bounced back eventually, but that was only the first time I was laid off. And here’s what I’ve learned from my decades in the pathologically unstable field of digital media: The problem is bigger than you and, thus, utterly unsolvable by you. Stressing about whether you’re going to be laid off won’t actually help your career (or your mental health). And it ruins your day. What’s worked for me is going small. Call it micro-control.

Here are three small ways to feel more hopeful and be more productive.

Ask your boss uncomfortable questions

When career anxiety is making it hard for you to work well, it’s time to get real with your boss. If it feels possible given your relationship and their management style, try having a frank conversation about the current situation.

Are you worried that people are annoyed that your kids keep Zoom-bombing your staff meetings? Stressed about your industry’s health as a whole? Chances are that your boss is having the same concerns you are and wants everyone to be working as well as possible. Have a proactive conversation with your boss to assess whether your fears are founded and if so, to brainstorm a solution.

Elana Konstant, career coach and founder of Konstant Change Coaching, suggests telling your boss “that you want to perform as well as possible and just want to understand what is expected of you and the company in terms of deliverables given the circumstances.” This might not change anything if your industry is tanking or your company decides to downsize. But at least you will know you did what you could, controlled what you could control, and solidified a professional relationship you may need if a job change is…