Fast-Paced Work Environments: What You Need to Know

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Heather K Adams734
Content + Copy Writer
June 21, 2024 at 12:59AM UTC
Spend any amount of time combing through the classifieds, or scrolling through online job boards, and you're going to see the phrase "fast-paced work environment," or something similar. 
You're going to see it a lot. But if you've never had a job that falls under this heading, do you really have a clear understanding of what it means?
Busy, hectic, on the go; high energy, demanding but rewarding. All of these (and more), are commonly used when describing positions in that fast-paced work environment. But how busy, how demanding? And, to be blunt, are you really cut out for this kind of job?

What is a fast-paced work environment like? What does the phrase "fast-paced environment" actually mean?

On one level, understanding what a fast-paced environment looks like is easy. Just think of your favorite watering hole on Friday evening, and your favorite cafe on Sunday morning. They're packed, with servers and bartenders hustling to keep up. But what if you don't work restaurants? If you aren't about to be crushed by a horde of customers, then what does fast-paced mean?
Outside of the service industry, more office-oriented jobs with fast-paced work environments revolve around tight deadlines, ambitious production schedules, quick turnarounds and multi-tasking. Having this kind of job means you'll probably have more over time than down time.
Sound awful? Or does it sound exciting? If none of this seems appealing, turn back now. We're about to dig into what employers with fast-paced environments are really looking for, and where to look for work if you think you've got what it takes.

Fast-paced job listings: decoded.

Any job hunter knows there's a degree of translation that goes into understanding a classified ad. "Entry level position" means a fair amount of grunt work, for example, but also a chance to learn a business from the bottom up. But even an experienced job seeker might not be clear on what some phrases really mean, especially as they pertain to a fast-paced work environment.

1. Looking for "flexible" candidates.

They don't mean yoga enthusiasts. Employers looking for flexible people want their employees to be able to handle a variety of tasks. You might end up wearing a couple of hats in this kind of position. But if you like to learn, and you're easily bored in a slower work environment, then flexibility is definitely something you should lean into.

2. Must be a "self-starter" who can "work independently."

Go-getters wanted, basically. This job might hand you a lot of work to do at once, and it's up to you to prioritize the tasks and find the best way to get everything done. Not for everybody, obviously. Some of us like a handbook and someone to go to with all our questions. But a number of us love the idea of going solo, flexing those muscles and getting a job done on their own terms. 

3. Wanted: "highly organized multi-taskers."

Read: busy, busy, busy. You'll be working not only at a fast pace, but also with a high volume of projects, assignments or tasks. And it falls to you to juggle details and deadlines. If your brain is wired to switch between tasks all day, every day, then this employer wants to talk to you.

How to keep up in a fast-paced environment.

Keeping your cool and staying focused can be a real challenge when things get hectic. And if you've never had a fast-paced job before? Extra challenging. You can do it, though. No matter what your level of experience, a few key tricks will help you manage the stress.

1. Avoid scatterbrain syndrome. 

Thinking about all the stuff you absolutely have to do today is not going to help you cross any of those things off your list. Rather than think about the volume of work ahead of you, stay focused on the task directly at hand. Deal with one thing at a time and ruthlessly return to the task if you get thrown off with a stray request or interruption. If you allow yourself to jump from task to task depending on what seems to need the most attention at the moment, you'll never actually finish any of them. 

2. Breathe and take breaks, otherwise, you'll quickly burn out. 

When we stress, we start to breathe in shorter, quicker breaths. It's a panic reaction. But you can't run away from work (well, you can, but you'll get fired). Instead, take a few deep breaths, and a moment to focus just on that. Do it at your desk or even in the bathroom. Close your eyes and breathe.

3. Ask smart questions and make suggestions.

Don't be afraid to ask for clarification on projects or tasks. The more you know about what's needed, the better equipped you'll be to make that happen. And if you have an idea for a change in your environment or workflow process that will help you (or everyone!) work more efficiently, by all means raise a hand.

Fast-paced environments and careers.

1. Restaurant industry

Servers, bartenders, even hostesses: all of these jobs involve hustle and a whole lot of multi-tasking. Folks who make a career in the world of restaurants totally thrive in its fast-paced environment. 

2. Journalism

Whether you snag a gig in the newsroom of a paper or a broadcast station, the world of news production moves at a whiplash pace. Reporter, editor and producer are all positions you can work your way up to, but don't be fooled. The folks at the top hustle just as hard as the ones starting out.

3. Entrepreneurism and startups

Nobody is quite as busy as the woman who works for herself. She doesn't just wear a lot of hats, she often makes each hat, by hand. This is the ultimate definition of a fast-paced environment to work in. But for people who thrive when everything rests on their shoulders, who are in fact more creative under stress, being an entrepreneur can be their ideal career.

4. Emergency services

Ask any police officer, EMT or emergency room tech — time is of the essence in their job. Any position that carries the risk of life or death comes with inherent pressure for duties to be performed quickly and accurately. 

5. Entertainment industry

If you've ever researched entertainment industry careers, such as talent manager or agent, producer or screenwriter, you probably noticed many of these illustrious careers begin in the mailroom or on a "desk." These entry-level positions introduce newbies to the fast-paced environment of Hollywood and require constant phone calls, scheduling, email tracking and more. 

Last word

Fast-paced work environments aren't for everyone. A fast pace often equals higher performance expectations and also higher stress. If you prefer a quieter, more low key environment, feel free to scroll right by these now easy-to-identify listings. But maybe you love, or love the idea of, work that moves fast and pushes you to move (and think) even faster. If that's you, rest assured you're exactly what those "fast-paced environment" employers are looking for.

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Heather Adams is a business storyteller at Adams Artco. Find her on [email protected].

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