How Driven Professionals Overcome Worry

Last Updated May 13, 2011 3:44 PM EDT

Highly motivated, driven professionals worry. It comes with the territory. A little bit of worry is a good thing, in that it focuses the mind. The problem comes when you worry equally about everything, no matter how big or small.

Harvard Business School professor Thomas Delong blogs about "the worrying trap" on HBR.org, and in a soon-to-be-published book, Flying Without a Net. Here are his three tips for not letting worry overcome you:

  1. Stay focused on the specific issue. Make a conscious effort to confine your worries to the subject at hand; small problems should be "boxed" so they don't spread. "Keep reminding yourself that a problem in one area does not necessarily mean that there's a problem in another area," Delong advises.
  2. Make a plan. Having a prioritized task list that you work through systematically will keep you from being distracted by less critical issues.
  3. Act quickly and decisively. The worst place to be is on the fence, indecisive. Address the issue causing the worry quickly and decisively. For right-versus-right or wrong-versus-wrong choices, forget analysis and trust your instincts.
Reading Delong's advice it is clear to me that worry feeds on inaction. If something is bothering us and we do nothing to address it, worry saps energy, causes distraction, and makes us less productive. Identifying the problem and taking the first steps to address it begins to relieve that burden.

How do you deal with worry?

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(Photo by Flickr user Xiao313, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.