Tag Archives: fatigue

We All Need Some Finishable Tasks – Fighting Fatigue in a Not-quite-ever-finished Era

Jason Robards (Ben Bradlee)

Look, you’re both probably a little tired, right?

Speaking outside of his home, late at tight, to these two guys, Woodward and Bernstein (Hoffman and Redford)

(They nod)
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–
(louder now)
–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–
(still building)
–but none of that counts as much as this: you _____ up again, I’m gonna lose my temper.
(pause; softer)
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?