I hit a wall last week. A very big, very real wall of my own making. I became burned out. Now, it’s time to hit that big, red reset button to recalibrate and make sure that I’m actively working towards a better balance in my life.
I enjoy my job. I enjoy the folks that I work with. I’ve had the ridiculous good fortune to like most of the time I’ve been working in my profession. If not always for the quality of the work at hand, at least for the pleasure of working with and interacting with the folks I interact with though out the day.
However, due to my own personality and my own personal tendencies, I fell in to a trap that I trigger every once in a while and that’s the trap of making work the dominant fixture in my life and in my day. And, more than dominant, the thing which I think about and am engaged with to the exclusion of more healthy and fulfilling parts of my life. To be clear: Most/many jobs require this occasionally. That’s okay and reasonable. What’s not okay or reasonable is to do this to the point where the rest of my life suffers and I ultimately become unhappy, burned out and disconnected. That is a thing to be avoided and that’s my responsibility to take the steps to avoid it.
At work, we’ve been working on a couple of very large and critical releases that have been the focus of much of the last year. Those releases are behind us now, mostly, but during the last phases of this last releases, my day came to consist of waking up around 6:15am, putting on my glasses and checking email to see what happened while I was sleeping as my first conscious action. Then, it was in to the shower and getting ready for work followed by driving in to work. Reach work, check email, get on top of email and the issues of the day and work my day. Then a long commute home followed by dinner and wrapping that up by 6:30pm or so. Whatever I chose to do at that time (which did not include, unless I’d done it earlier in the day, exercising because I was pooped), it included checking my phone for email if I wasn’t at my desk in my office at home where I would typically have email up in the background and check that every half hour. Bedtime around 10pm, always checking email before I shut off the electronics, sleep, then wake the next morning to do it all again.
Exercise is easy to (for me) deprioritize during these phases of overwork. The saving grace for me is that my exercise of choice this time of year is playing volleyball outside at lunch time 2-3 times a week which is great exercise and really good for my mood, so if I can, I will fight to make this happen. When the weather turns and makes that impossible, the best I seem to manage is walking for 30 minutes several times a week.
Focusing on eating more healthy is a challenge because I always feel pressed for time, so it’s easier to rationalize eating something that’s quick which, too often, means fast food, eating out or something packaged which is likely not that healthy.
My smartphone is, most of the time, an amazing tool that I cannot imagine being without. But, especially during these periods of stretching myself too thin, it becomes a curse. It’s too bloody easy, just the push of a single app button, to check in with work email and see what’s going on. Then followed, too often, by having to get on the desktop to respond to something or respond from the phone. Updated knowledge is only a click away, followed promptly by the feeling that I need to do something or take care of something because it probably shouldn’t wait until the next day.
When I got on vacation for more than a weekend, I make a commitment to myself (and my very patient wife) that I will disable the connection to work email so it’s at least several clicks away and thus not so easy. This makes it a bit easier to remove myself from that steady stream of input.
What I need to do, and this is one of the things that comes from hitting the big, red reset button, is to make a commitment to stop checking email (at least for a while) once I leave work and until I’m back in to work. That should force my brain to de-couple from the work for a period of time to allow me to recharge. Failure to do that results in me becoming grumpy. Additionally, I realize it makes me so focused on the short term that I can’t do any quality long term thinking, the kind of thinking that can happen when you are not constantly feeling under the gun and over-stimulated.
So, this is my opportunity to make a public commitment to take a pause (which I did this weekend), hit the big, red reset button and make some adjustments.
For me this will be focused on several key areas:
- Healthy Eating : I’m going to try and track my food for a while to at least increase my awareness of what I’m eating and when. Along with this, I’m (mostly) dropping soda of any kind and eating after 9pm (dangerous snack time for me).
- Get some kind of exercise 5 days a week : I’ll set the bar low, here. At least a 2 mile walk, but more is better.
- Unless there’s an emergency, no email between leaving work and arriving at work.
- Be mindful of work during work hours and be mindful of how I’m choosing to spend my time in my non-work hours. Don’t let the evening just disappear in a puff of passed time. Some downtime is good, too much is just vegging when I’m not working and that can go too far towards the other extreme. So, time to look at my project list and start doing some of those things.
That’s a good start. I suspect that’s enough to keep me out of trouble for a while.
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