Look, you’re both probably a little tired, right?
You should be, you’ve been under a lot of pressure. So go home, have a nice hot bath, rest up fifteen minutes if you want before you get your asses back in gear–
–because we’re under a lot of pressure, too, and you put us there–not that I want it to worry you–nothing’s riding on you except the First Amendment of the Constitution plus the freedom of the press plus the reputation of a hundred-year-old paper plus the jobs of the two thousand people who work there–
–but none of that counts as much as this: you _____ up again, I’m gonna lose my temper.
I promise you, you don’t want me to lose my temper.
Ben Bradlee, to Woodward and Bernstein, from the movie script for All the President’s Men
(This is one of my Sunday posts. A little longer than usual, maybe a little rambling, but an important point to make — I think/I hope).
My wife is now a full-time care-giver. Her dad moved in to live with us about a year and a half ago, and he is her full-time job. Because of his needs (related to diabetes, and his advanced age), she has his daily schedule, and thus her daily schedule, down to the minute and the calorie. It is exhausting – and I know this because I watch her work, and because there are a few weekends (like this one) when she is away and I fill in. Her dad is a fine man (he taught the classics in college; read nine languages; was a decorated decades-long Naval Reservist after his initial duty in World War II), but now needs a little help, and after a weekend, I feel pretty spent.
But… one thing that makes this work different is that when I go to bed, I know that I “finished” the work I had to do. And it feels “finished.” Jeannie is a great list maker, and she has created a checklist notebook with comprehensive details about everything from blood sugar and insulin to the right mix to stir into her dad’s oatmeal. Some company should hire her to help them with their organization I promise you, she leaves no detail neglected. (But, she is not available).
When her mother was living, she would read the Sunday newspaper. Look at the phrase again – “she would read the Sunday newspaper.” She would turn to every single page in every single section (she propably skipped the classifieds). She would read at least a portion of every article. Section by section, cover to cover. Most of those Sundays were spent with the Abilene Reporter-News. A good local newspaper, but from a smaller “market.” So, when we moved to Los Angeles, and she came to visit, she took one look at our Los Angeles Times, and grimaced. And then she set to work. Quite a long time later, she would put the last section face-down in its proper place (the Johnstons had a proper place for everything, including recently read newspapers), and say with a combination of accomplishment and disgust at the size of the task, “There!” She had read the Sunday newspaper – finished!
I no longer read the Sunday newspaper. I read my web sites. News; business; sports; politics; technology; film; and so many more… This morning, before and after the morning routine with Jeannie’s dad, I have read countless articles on my iPad, downloaded sample pages of about five books on my Kindle app (three of these titles Bob Morris reviewed on this blog), read many of these sample pages. I have ordered used copies of three books, all out of print, I have come to my computer to write this blog post, and then, later today I will reopen my iPad and get back to the task of reading web pages and books.
I am never finished. I feel like I am never finished. And that feeling can be exhausting.
And now I’m nearly to the point of this blog post. There are more and more jobs that people work in which are never “finished.” So much work in the past was work that you showed up to do, you did it, you finished it, and then you left work until the next day. Yesterday, a Saturday, I had to deal with three pressing business issues – all of which came to me on Saturday. Assembly line workers, bankers, and so many others used to work Monday—Friday. They would leave work on Friday and forget about it until Monday.
Not anymore – for a lot of people.
And, I think, people need a little help here. I think they need to feel like “there is at least a part of my work that I actually get to finish, and then leave behind.” I think leaders and managers and supervisors need to find a way to say, “do this – it is a finishable task” and then when they finish it, they need to encourage and reward and acknowledge and praise and tell the stories of such successfully completed tasks.
I think we are a tired people living in a tiring era. I think a part of what tires us so is the problem that so much of our work is always unfinished. At least, mine is.
But, when I finish a new handout on a book I have read, and then present it for the first time, I feel a momentary of “accomplishment.” This is close to a “finished” feeling. But then, the next time I present the same book, I struggle with “how to present this one better.”
Just this morning, one of the web sites I check frequently, Business Insider, had this article up under its Strategy tab: 13 Facts Every Presenter Should Know About People by Susan Weinschenk. I make much of my living as a speaker (these days, I’m supposed to learn to use the word “presenter.” I’m not yet sold on that). This was a good article. And then I downloaded the sample pages of the author’s book 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People. I’ve already read the sample pages… And now, I know that I need to learn 13 more facts, and 100 more things, and soon, there will be another list of things to learn. In her book, Ms. Weinschenk says: “Practically before the presentation is done, I’ve already identified what I need to change” before the next time.
In other words, she is, I am, we are, never quite fully finished. And so we strive for constant improvement. As we should. But striving for constant improvement really can put us in a sort of constantly exhausted state.
So – back to the point. In our work, we need to feel like we have finished something, then we can feel a sense of accomplishment, we can be rewarded/reward ourselves, and then we can rest. (Sunday used to be called the Christian Sabbath – a day of rest). And after we rest, then we get back at it again.
So, find a way to identify a finishable task. Do it, finish it, and then rest. And if you are a leader/supervisor/manager, help your folks identify a finishable task, and then reward them, and let them rest a little.
Many of us could use a little rest right now, don’t you think?
Recently, Slate.com ran a test on who is better informed: newspaper readers exclusively or internet readers exclusively, in its News Junkie Smackdown. The winner seemed to be neither, with both sides wanting and missing the other side’s sources. But as I read the multi-entry series, I realized how tired I felt just from the task of reading the news. I read the news constantly – as do so many of us these days. And I feel that if I miss a story, then somehow I have fallen behind in the universe. Keeping up is wearing me out.
There are other tasks that are wearing us out – I think we are a tired people, collectively. Many of my friends now work as “independents,” perpetually scrambling for the next financial possibility, feeling the pressure constantly. Those who work for large organizations are feeling the pressure also. The next round of layoffs seems to be right around the corner. (How many of us personally know someone who has been laid off?) The strain of the economy seems to fill many with a deepening, underlying, constant uncertainty – about nearly everything. And such uncertainty, such insecurity, is very, very tiring. Not to mention that financial pressures are equally very, very tiring, and many face these on a regular basis.
Are there books to help? I think so. Two that I have read, neither “new’ but both still valuable, are The Power of Full Engagement and Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Of course, everyone knows about David Allen’s best seller. An entire industry has been created providing GTD aps for the iPhonie, following Allen’s principles. He is so right that any thing that clutters the life or the mind is burden producing and burden sustaining. Getting it off of the mind and into a place where it can be retrieved when needed is critical to one’s sanity, and energy level. Here are a few key quotes:
• Almost everyone I encounter these days feels he or she has too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done.
• In the old days, you knew what work had to be done – you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished. Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish these to perfection.
• “This constant, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.” Kerry Gleeson.
• We all seem to be starved for a win.
The other book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, may be less well known, but it is a great and valuable companion volume for Getting Things Done. Consider these quotes:
• We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee, and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work…, we return home feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.
We walk around with day planners and to-do lists; Palm Pilots and BlackBerries, instant pagers and pop-up reminders – all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends.
• Fatigue has a cascade effect – fatigue leads to negative emotions leads to muscular tension leads to lack of focus/concentration.
• We need energy to perform, and recovery is more than the absence of work.
I realize that we are too busy to read these books about dealing with the stress of being too busy. But these quotes should whet your appetite while reminding us all that the problem of fatigue is real. It will take a lot of effort to become effortless in our work and life and emotional balance.
• You can order synopses of my presentations for both Getting Things Done and The Power of Full Engagement, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.