Oh, how I wish this was a dream; one of those warning type dreams that remind me of what I need to do.
“What’s the status with the Open Group?”
“Uhmmm, I don’t have it. “
“Have you talked to them?”
“Uh no – I forgot.”
“Sheila, this is really important. I need a status from you on this every two weeks.”
“Yes, you said that last week, I will send an email now.”
“OK. When will you have your portion of the white paper written for technical careers?”
“I posted my draft last week” I replied quickly and a little relieved that I could finally answer something.
“There is nothing posted by you.”
“Yes, it is. Wait, I know I wrote it. I had three themes. Ok, here it is. Hmmmm, it didn’t post,” I sighed, my creeping exhaustion exacerbated by my own self at my display of ineptitude.
Oh, it was bad. My first thought was I’d work late tonight and get caught up on everything. Yes, that’s it; wrong answer.
If I am running and get a leg cramp; I stop. To continue would be further pain and injury. If I am practicing a hand stand and keep falling, I stop. My balance is off; I’m tired; something is off and to continue would risk injury. Why should work be any different? Obviously there is something out of sorts. And what was my immediate reaction, oh let’s do more at a higher intensity! This sounds somewhat silly in retrospect.
With the body, it is obvious. There is some pain, something is swollen, something is red, and something hurts. You have proof. You find the source and severity of the injury. I hurt my shoulder last November (the term impinged was used) and had to stop doing certain things for a while and do some physical therapy. It’s the same with work, whether we acknowledge it or not. Things start to go wrong. The answer is not to keep going, but, to stop and figure out why.
I don’t miss major work tasks. Obviously, I am injured.
Assess so you can get back to work:
- Was the task and time frame realistic? This is rather easy to calculate for sports – for work, sometimes not so much. I can run, but my current pace is not conducive to running a marathon before they close the course. If the tasks were not feasible for the time frame, learn from it, and don’t do it again.
- Were you successful doing this task or a similar task before? Were you successful in the past or was it luck? Like the golfing experience where you have an amazing game and play well under par. Was that a magical day or do you consistently golf under par? Was the task above your expertise level, and you got a lucky break? Distinguish luck from actual success based on skill and expertise.
- What support do you need? When I ran half marathons, I would do 6 mile runs 5 days a week and get a 10 mile run in on the weekends. Have I done 13.1 miles before? Yes, Can I do it now? Give me three months to train but don’t expect me to do it next week. Support can be in the form of a schedule, a coach, or any kind of system that helps you meet your goals and deadlines. Missing support? Get it.
- Finally, what broke? What’s the source of the injury?
I took these points to look at my immediate situation. The task and time frame were realistic and I have been successful because the task was well within my expertise. My usual source of support seems to have shifted a bit. My management structure changed recently. Previously, I met with my former manager once a month. I prepared and maintained a status report of what was doing. With this new manager, we have informal weekly calls during which status reports were not necessary. Aha! Status reports are an activity reviled by most; but it works for me. It requires that I actively review my workload, thereby lowering the risk of missing deadlines. Providing a status report to my manager is the support I need. At the end of the day, I sent my manager a status report.
Finally, I thought about what broke. The status report is great for support, but did anything break? Yes, I was tired. I work with a global team, and the previous week, I had 6:00 am calls with Belgium and 10:00 pm calls with India. I need sleep. According to my sleep app (Sleep Cycle http://www.sleepcycle.com), I know I need 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep to get above 85% sleep quality. I looked at my data the previous week showed I had been trending between 58% to 65%. Yes, I am that person.
Maybe this was most important revelation of all. You cannot push a tired body to excel; the same with the mind.
Driving home late one night from the airport, I could not figure out why I couldn’t get the traffic lights to change. When I got home, I realized that I was pressing my garage door opener at each light trying to get it to turn green. Sleep deprivation – ugghh. Its impact is well-researched and it affects everyone in their own way. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelthomsen/2014/03/27/how-sleep-deprivation-drives-the-high-failure-rates-of-tech-startups/ http://hbr.org/2006/10/sleep-deficit-the-performance-killer)
Ultimately, if you are thwarted, consider stopping. You won’t know how to move forward unless you first stop and assess where you are.