The Work Hangover

I couldn’t believe it. Yesterday I slept for 12 hours. I hadn’t done that since my days back in University, where I was pulling all-nighters and in some cases, probably having a bit too much fun. What happened? What was I feeling? After noodling on it and looking back at the work week prior, I realized I was suffering from a work hangover. 

Doing the math

Thanks to Cisco for providing the Friday before the U.S. Memorial Day holiday as a “Day for Me” holiday, I had a four-day weekend. It was amazing and in fact, those four days felt like an entire week of shutdown. I was refreshed but not ready for the week that lay ahead. My compressed four-day work week I returned to was filled with days of meetings, follow-up, and late nights to work on the pending action items from said meetings. Instead of returning to a short work week from a long weekend, I returned to a 40+ hour work week compressed into 4 days. I needed to retro.

For one thing, my usual work weeks are about 50 to 60 hours. Yes, that probably means I have too many priorities but at the same time, I love what I do so the lines of excitement and work tend to get blurred. My manager has helped by shifting one of my priorities to another team member where it made more sense given their wheelhouse. He also allowed me to grow my team to help support the initiatives I’m most excited about that would help our team operationally and culturally. My new team includes folks across different experience levels, including someone who is in the stage of learning and soaking in as much as she can. It’s critical I exemplify the behavior that models work-life balance so she doesn’t feel that she’s expected to work all night to get something done. For instance, on Friday at 4p, upon finding out she was digging into some number crunching on something that was not critical, I told her to begin her weekend and what she was working on could wait until next week. Her response was not only positive but also showed she really appreciated me checking in on her. Step one of protecting your people from burnout accomplished. Step two was about me showing I followed suit so I also ended my work day at that time with my team. 

Burnout is real

Now I had to look into why I was working so much. The trend of burnout is real. As much as we’d love to do everything at once as if we were trained at Hogwarts, the reality is we cannot nor should we strive to because we’d be setting ourselves up for failure. We are not computers. And even though we have the technology at our fingertips that give us the sense that we can provide instant gratification at any time, we should not set those expectations. In my last blog post, I mentioned the potential pitfall of setting the wrong expectations such as working anytime. That is setting us up for failure. If we work all of the time, we do not have time to recharge. 

This concept of making time to recharge became crystal clear to me a couple of weeks ago when my car battery had died. Long story short, it turned out my weekly ritual of turning on the engine is not enough to keep the battery charged, especially given the electrical components of cars these days. At a minimum I needed to take my car on at least 20 minute weekly drives to recharge the battery. Then it hit me!. I needed to give myself (body and mind) more time to recharge too and not try to do “as much as possible”. This would require me to fight these unrealistic pressures our society sets thanks to advancements from technology, which can make us feel like we need to provide great work, instantly and constantly. For what it’s worth, I shared this story at my team’s last All Hands meeting and a manager let me know that it helped. Something similar had happened on his team and it helped to hear we had permission to recharge so if you’re reading this, please make sure your teams have this space to rest as well. 

This leads me to my last point from my internal retro: recharging is key because our brains need rest. I realized that in my attempt to do as much as I would normally complete in five days compressed into four, that I may have short circuited some of my brain power. It was on 24/7; I wasn’t sleeping as well because I was still thinking through problems rather than resting. So when I finally slept on Friday night, for the 12 hours, it was my brain trying to repair. It was also my brain telling me “slow down!”. Our body, mind, and soul are precious so it’s important we take care of it. We only get one chance, right? 

So now what?

I took this weekend to recharge. On Saturday, I only engaged in fun activities with my family such as hiking, cooking, and watching movies we’ve been meaning to catch up on. Not only did I not work but I intentionally did not respond to any emails or pings on our WebEx Teams channels once I signed off on Friday to really give my brain time to rest.

Going forward, I will get better at tracking my team’s priorities and hours worked. In addition to our backlog grooming sessions, we also track planned work and estimated hours spent on it per quarter. This way as “drive-bys” or other injections of work come our way, we can more quickly know where we need to make trade offs against our current priorities so we’re not just adding to the work already on our plate, which leads to these long work weeks. I need to get better at checking in on the planned work regularly and we as a team need to remain cognizant of what’s realistically accomplishable against current priorities. To do this, I as the team manager need to remember to keep asking “Does anything need to be deprioritized before you take on this new project?” when delegating assignments. My number one responsibility as a manager is to my people on my team. 

Additionally, I will continue to retro each week to continue noodling on where I can better help my team and myself. The intent of this retro process is not to beat myself up for or dwell on mistakes but rather to celebrate wins and find opportunities to keep us excited about the work ahead. If it’s one thing I’ve learned throughout these past few months given everything going on politically and healthwise in the world, it’s perspective. Look at different perspectives and pull data points to make the right decisions for you, your family, and your team. The latter two may be blended as they are in my case and I feel grateful for this!

Lessons learned:

  • Four days does not equal five days. Plan ahead for short weeks and give your team permission to do less and not feel like they’re less productive for it.
  • Give yourself time to recharge. We are not computers but at times, we set expectations that we should work as quickly as them. Step back and reset expectations.
  • Find time to reflect on where you’re doing well as well as areas of opportunity for improvement. Avoid the tendency to dwell or place blame.
Fortunately, I was able to celebrate my birthday this past December with my family at my favorite Italian restaurant in Carlsbad, at Vigilucci’s, before the pandemic broke out globally. Here I am with my two favorite men in the world: my husband and dad. Although there are not noodles in this photo, believe me, I consumed quite a bit of noodles that evening.

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