Like a lot of people, I just read ‘How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation’, an article by Anne Helen Petersen. If you haven’t read it yet I urge you to do so. It’s excellent and touches on a web of issues facing today’s workforce. While ostensibly about the conditions that make millennial burnout so likely and prevalent, I suspect many people (of all ages) will see some aspects of their lives reflected in Petersen’s words.
The article intersected with a few other things this week. One was a Twitter conversation I got into this weekend about Shadow Work. In her article, Petersen names the feeling of profound inertia she has about some of the mundane maintenance tasks of living “errand paralysis’.
“…complexity is about how things connect far more than what the things are.” – Dave Snowden
I crashed my brain in August. In the same way that my computer gets slower and slower as I accumulate more and more open tabs, I was finally left with a spinning wheel of mental overload.
Among the many workplace phrases that I would like to make illegal is “getting buy-in”. It’s almost always paired “WIIFM”, which stands for “what’s in it for me?”, and is short-hand for the way we imagine a totally average employee who is also a diabolically shrewd and calculating villain assessing our carefully crafted change initiative or program implementation.
Recently, an employee from an organization I worked at several years ago reached out on LinkedIN. They wanted to share their experience of a project I led back then to introduce SMART goals as part of the performance planning and assessment process. They were not a fan. I don’t blame them.
This week’s Google Duplex demo raised important and provocative ethical questions about human-machine interactions. It also offered a glimmer of hope that the long-ago promise that technology would free us from mental and physical grunt work to enjoy lives of leisure might yet live.
The work that Duplex would do, book appointments, schedule reservations, is work that, to date, most of us have done for ourselves.
It’s called shadow work, and it’s become so ubiquitous that we barely notice it anymore. Our collective anxieties about automation and AI make it easy to overlook the less dramatic ways that work is being shifted away from workers.
I’ve been breaking a lot of my rules lately, and I paid for it this week.
No coffee after 1pm
Log off Twitter an hour before bed
Only skip the gym if you’re sick or in (non-DOMS) pain
Bring your own lunch
These are small things. They sound pretty easy. Inconsequential even. Breaking one does not result in immediate calamity. But I know through trial and error that ignoring one or more of these for even a week or two leads to quick fraying of the cord that tethers me to my capacity as a functioning human being.
Life is a series of trade-offs. Helpfully, life has continued to remind me of this fact (thanks life), despite it being something I should know well by now. One way to explain this concept is the Four Burners Theory. Have you heard of it?
Essentially it asks you to envision your life as a stovetop, with the four burners representing your health, work, family, friends respectively. As James Clear writes:
“The Four Burners Theory says that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
I am a messy desk person. I always have been a messy desk person, and at this point I think I always will be a messy desk person.
This fact always seems to come as a surprise to colleagues and friends. “But you seem so organized!” they exclaim, in a tone that makes it clear I’ve just revealed something disappointing and mildly shameful about myself. I am quite organized, but it’s always interesting to see how the state of my desk causes people to question this assessment of me.
I get it. Messy is not a characteristic we aspire to. At best, we consider it a quality of someone who’s childish or careless; at worst, a sign of madness. Mary Kondo took this to the bank.
I’m working on policies right now, which is always slightly depressing. Developing policies always feels like a lose-lose situation. At least some of them are necessary, but no one loves them. Organizations tend to view policy in very binary ways, either embracing it too tightly as a protective talisman against risk, or rejecting it outright as being oppressive. On its own, policy isn’t either of those things (protective or oppressive). That all depends on how its applied.
December is upon us, and with it come admonitions to enjoy a season filled with peace, joy, and reflection. In reality, it’s also a mad scramble to finish projects and see people before the arbitrary temporal landmark that is December 31st. Prevailing corporate wellness wisdom tells managers and HR to be especially mindful of employee stress during this period, and there is a tidal wave of articles aimed at individuals with tips to “survive the holidays”.
I have mixed feelings about wellness programs at work, and the holiday season reminds me why. Too often, these programs add things to employees already long list of tasks, rather than consider what might be removed or changed in the work environment.