The phone rings constantly because the receptionist's never at her desk. You can't finish a major client mailer because the supply clerk didn't order the envelopes you requested weeks ago. Some offices are just plain chaotic, whether because of a disorganized management team, the company culture or the unpredictability of the workload. But if you're someone who thrives on structure and a predictable routine, a chaotic workplace might make you truly crazy. You almost certainly can't change the entire office culture, but you can blunt the effects of the chaos.
Organize your work area. Whether you have a private office, a standard cubicle or just a desk in the corner, keep your own area free of clutter so you're not completely swamped by office chaos. At least you'll feel like you have control over some aspect of your work life.
Impose structure on your schedule by making -- and following -- a prioritized to-do list for each day's work. Avoid frequent interruptions when you're trying to concentrate and give yourself a pat on the back for prevailing through the craziness when you do complete a major project on time, for example.
Stay on top of your projects and assignments. You can't control how others do their work, but you do have control over your own efforts. If you already know that things tend to be chaotic, staying current with your own work makes you better able to manage the last-minute panic and unanticipated crises that are likely to arise. Encourage participants in group projects to meet on a regular basis to share information and ensure that group members are on track to meet deadlines, especially when others can't begin their own work until these deadlines are met.
Take a break when you start feeling overwhelmed. Get out of the office for a short break, take a walk or grab a snack. If you can't physically leave the office, take a mental break by listening to some soothing music or doing relaxation or stretching exercises at your desk. The break may give you a refreshed outlook to get back to your work without feeling the surrounding chaos is going to suck you in.
Make suggestions to your supervisor about ways to make the office environment less chaotic, if you believe he might be receptive to such ideas. Offer to head up a small group to evaluate workflow, for example, if that's one of the main factors contributing to the chaos. Recommend a computer-based tool to remind people of deadlines and meeting times if this is one of the problems adding to the insanity. He might well appreciate improvements in key areas, especially if he doesn't have to figure out how to solve the problem himself.
As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.