Planners Getting Punchy On Too Much Work And Too Little Time

Meeting planners are like everyone else today: They're stressed out.

About one-third of planners responding to a MeetingNews survey reported high levels of stress in their jobs, and three-quarters said they are at least moderately stressed.

"The problem is that planners are seriously overcommitted," said David Allen, president of executive coaching and management firm David Allen Company, and author of "Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity."

Allen believes that stress comes from both lack of organization and fear that we won't be able to do what we've agreed to do.

"Most people don't have a successful, systematic approach for the commitments they've made," he said.

Stress also stems from too much work. On a six-point scale, more than 20 percent of planners ranked workload-related stress a six, meaning "extremely stressful."

"There has been a reduction in the planner work force," said LoriAnn Harnish, who recently left a job with a nonprofit organization to become a meetings consultant in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I was one of three planners at my previous job, and we planned up to 500 meetings annually."

Harnish, who said she worked up to 90 hours a week, felt like a gerbil on a spinning wheel.

"I didn't know when I was going to stop," she said. "If I didn't leave when I did, something disastrous could have happened to my health."

Almost half of the surveyed planners said they work at least nine hours per day when not on-site at a meeting.

"The closer we get to a meeting, the more hours I work," said Brad Gemeinhart, director of communications for the U.S. Junior Chamber. "There are just so few of us so we have to put in extra effort to get things done."

Stress from the job has also affected planners' personal lives. Almost 40 percent reported high levels of stress emanating from the struggle to balance their work and personal lives.

"That is not surprising," said Doug Smart, who is a professional speaker and the author of "TimeSmart: How Real People Really Get Things Done at Work." "People try to pretend that their work and personal lives are separate. But they're not. The only thing that changes is the setting; we are still the same person."

Concurred Allen, "Dividing both aspects of our lives is a new concept. Farmers never made the distinction between the work and home. They just did what they had to do."

Gemeinhart said he found a way to stabilize both aspects of his life with little stress.

"The key is planning ahead," he said. "We start producing our brochures three months out, and I anticipate that I'll be working longer hours when the event gets closer, so I plan my personal life accordingly."

Among other stress-busting techniques, Allen mentioned yoga, stretching and deep breathing, while Smart recommended taking a "five-minute-vacation" by closing your eyes or taking a walk.

Surveyed planners said being around family and friends was the best way to cope with stress. Taking a vacation and having a positive attitude were ranked second and third.

Some planners seem to have found non-conventional ways to reduce stress while on-site at meetings.

"We use a 'toy box' of fun things like nerf balls, Frisbees, bubbles and small squirt guns. It's hard to be stressed out when you're laughing," said Gemeinhart.