Work has always been frantic. The pandemic kicked everything into hyper speed. I spent all of 2020 keeping my head above water. Tracking Zoom changes as it grew and changed by the second. Webex plodded along but even they kicked things into gear eventually.
It was a frantic year. Trying to manager web conferencing platform integrations and starting a brand new job all at once. I came out of that year exhausted.
2021 wasn’t much better. The priorities changed. We had sunk into a new march forward. Ever forward. But it felt familiar. There were moments of hope. Like sunlight kissing a branch during golden hour before plunging once against into darkness until the new morning.
That’s a dark stage set for how my brain has been working. It’s full. My RAM is full and I’m having to use swap space. It’s slowing everything down.
Keep it all in memory
I don't really know how to describe this so it makes sense. But here goes…
I look at problems holistically. I look at the problem and not only the way forward. But as many ways forward as I can see that aren’t immediate dead ends. I look at those branching choices and look for threats and road blocks and wolves along my forest path.
I try to think not only of the next problem and how to solve it but the next problem and solution pairing after that. I don’t want to walk into a peaceful mountain pass instead of climbing over if there’s an army waiting for me in the pass. I’d rather pick the harder route at first than deal with an insurmountable problem around the next turn.
Because this is how my brain works, taking on a big project is like loading all of this up into my head. I’m looking at the problem and all the ways it can go wrong and trying to find the best path toward.
There will never be a perfect path. But one that doesn’t lead to immediate failure or insurmountable problems because we leapt before we looked.
This is fine when I’m able to focus on the problem at hand and map out a way forward and what other decisions need to be made. What other people I need to consult and what decisions we need to make now, or at least consider, before racing forward.
But this is not how the world works. Nor is it how work is done. Work is an ever-increasing set of context shifts and priority sliding. Walking the well-lit path becomes shifting sands of uncertainty when there’s a sudden detour thrown in the way.
When instead of working the plan I’ve made, it’s time to put that away and run in a new, unmapped direction. It’s exhausting. I can’t just turn off my brain and run into the unknown hoping for the best.
Before I move forward, I need a path. I’m going to pick the best path but I still want answers for what we find up ahead. During the day, I’m very happy to live in my project and work on the many, many many moving parts and looking ahead at decision points and who needs to be involved.
But that’s rarely how my days go.
Many days it’s Big Project work.
Then fire fighting.
Back to Big Proj—- FIRE!
Reviewing notes from the meetings.
Instant Messages AHOY!
invent time travel because it can’t possibly be only 11:30am
At the end of the work day, it’s hard to clear the cache I’ve loaded into my head. I find it challenging to turn my thoughts to other things. To let go of the problems I’ve loaded up and been thinking through.
Relaxing is hard.
Unwinding is hard.
Even when I do eat properly and take breaks away from my desk, by the end of the day I feel exhausted. I don’t know how to be a person outside of work. All I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep for a month.
I know I am burned out. The Pandemic is about to start its junior year. I know I powered through all of 2020 and most of 2021 and I am rightly paying for that now. I know why I feel the way I do. I don’t know how to, not even fix it, because this isn’t fixable with a long weekend. But how do I start to mend? How do I nurse my sore legs and aching feet when I’m still running on the treadmill? How do I find space for self-care? If I’m too exhausted to think about how to take care of myself… how do I start to find ways to feel better?
I fantasize about going to a cabin in the woods with a pile of books for a month. Then emerging as some sort of human being. My wife’s response when I said that stays with me: “that’s a lot of pressure to put on a cabin.”