Workday Vs. Work Moments – Avoid burnout in the workplace
Another workday. It’s 6 a.m. Time to wake up and get going. You take a shower, brush your teeth and make some coffee. You take a quick look at your calendar. And then, anxiety kicks in. How can you possibly get all this done today!
Workday Vs. Work Moments
To help us figure out why our workday is so flawed, and how to deal with it, I’m here with my dear friend, Michelle Bakels. Michelle is a program director at G2i, where she creates community-focused solutions for developer health and burnout. She has spent the last several years as a software engineer in South Florida, and she serves as the chair of Code Palm Beach. Michelle is passionate about creating equitable spaces and opportunities in tech. AC: So tell me, what do you think about approaching time management in the workplace? MB: I think that we couldn’t possibly have any more tools for time management than we already have. We’re in this place where it’s all over-engineered to mask the real problem. We’re stuffing more work into our workday and going, going, going. Everything is rushed, and everything is in a hurry, and everything is due right now. AC: Yeah, the expectation is to complete the task and check the box. MB: Yes, time management is at a place where we have all the calendars and ways that we can create tasks. But when you think about success in time management, how does that look? It means you’re not rushing. It means you’re managing your time in a way that you’re not burning out. You have time to eat meals; you can exercise, see friends, spend time with your family. So, we have the tools, but now we need to create the culture.
Is work making you ill?
AC: Michelle, you’ve been such a big advocate for developer health; tell me, what’s the impact of multitasking and unrealistic productivity expectations in a workday? MB: Sometimes, it’s even more than just seeing your colleague work late. Sometimes our bosses and our leadership praise this kind of behavior. It sets the example and sends the message, ‘this is what it takes to succeed.’ You look at who you’re competing with for a promotion and what it takes to be on top. And when we start multitasking and working like that, we’re just checking boxes, closing things to see the needle move. We want to prove to this company you’re worth being employed, but you’re not really stopping and doing work well.
Multitasking: the #1 productivity killer
MB: Context switching, on average, takes about 20 minutes between each different thing. It’s just really not possible for us to be switching gears constantly throughout the workday, doing our work well, and genuinely being productive. We’re mostly just in this state where we’re spinning plates, and we’re just trying to close work essentially, not create something meaningful. AC: Right, and eventually, we burn out. And we start hating our job to the point work directly impacts our health. MB: Yes, we burn ourselves out because we keep stuffing more and more work. In our mind, that equals value, which shows our worth. But that’s not really how we do our best work.
The Athlete’s parallel
There’s this parallel that we talk about at G2i between the knowledge worker, the employee, and the athletes. We don’t expect athletes to do their Olympic performance level every day. Athletes have off days and off-seasons; They don’t work out or exercise for 14 hours in a day and then go home and stay up for another four hours working out again and then waking up at 6 a.m. and starting another 12 or 14 hour day. That’s not how you get top performance out of your athletes, and that’s not how you get maximum performance from your employees either.
Getting some ZZZ as part of your job description
Sleep fitness is a term that’s coming into more usage because sleep is fitness. Sleep is part of fitness, being productive, and performing. So, if you want your employees or your knowledge workers to perform at their best, you need to ensure that rest and sleep are part of what you’re asking of them. AC: In my opinion, the workday is a prehistoric concept that no longer applies because it’s in those good work moments where you get quality. So we’re not constantly worn out and anxious, what can we do to foster more work moments instead of a workday? MB: Yeah, there are quite a few things that we do at G2i and that we consult other companies on when they’re looking to create better workplaces for their employees. I’ll start with a few of the main ideas. We want to prioritize our health and create environments that allow us to find this flow state. That’s how you have these productive, meaningful work moments, these flows, and we can only really do that when we’re free of distractions and when we’re not thinking about a million other things.
Slow down already!
MB: Of course, that means that we need to slow down; we need to reduce our hurry and speed. One of the solutions that we talk to clients and developers about are ‘Four-Day Work Week.’ We also talk about the context of a 32-hour workweek, so it can be four days where you have Fridays off, or it can be 32 hours where you work five days. But there are two half-days, for example. But in essence, we are not operating 40 hours a week; that’s not possible. A regular day has many distractions and meaningless time-wasters, so when you free up those eight hours, it leads to fewer distractions because we’re getting more done in our personal lives. Of course, moving, walking, drinking water, taking care of our health so that we’re operating at the highest level that we can.
Breaking the workday patterns
MB: We also advocate for async communications. So, take a week and cut out two meetings that you think you have to have. See if those can be emails or messages instead. Release this expectation that everybody has to respond to you or that you have to respond to everybody immediately. Most things can wait a few hours, if not a day or two. And then, of course, don’t get caught up in your scheduling tools. MB: So, we talked about time management earlier, but I’ve seen it with companies that I’ve been with that have implemented time management tools that create more work than reducing work because now you have to manage the time management tool. So, try and keep things as simple as possible and streamlined. AC: I love those tools, Asana, Airtable, all that. But you need to have a realistic expectation that it’s just a placeholder for activities that need to be completed and not necessarily dictate how your workday ends up flowing. Things change across the day. MB: Oh yeah. We try and under schedule. And then if we get more done, that’s great. But things inevitably come up. When you overstuff your schedule and can’t complete it all, it makes you feel like you weren’t productive or successful when in reality, you did get a lot of great work done. It was just maybe four things instead of eight, and that’s ok. Giving yourself a little bit of wiggle room is essential as well.
Dealing with writer’s block
AC: Well, obviously, Ok, Yes! is all about storytelling tools and creativity. Having this flexibility in your time, coming in with a positive rather than negative approach is something that I tie directly to writer’s block. When you’re developing creative copy, it doesn’t stop at storytelling. If you want to come up with a good idea for a meeting, if you’re trying to create innovation, a business solution, writer’s block also lives there. If you’re overwhelmed, not feeling 100% or uninspired inspired, nothing new or original will come out of your brain. MB: I agree. Creativity and innovation depend on us taking a step back. We need to look at the bigger picture, and seeing what else is out there. And also spend time just creating connections, doing research, and learning, which we don’t have time to do if all we’re doing is closing tasks and burning down some chart or whatever it is. You need to explore your surroundings, explore your industry, explore the ideas of the people around you. That depends on us slowing down; that depends on freeing up our time and allowing those moments to come up. This conversation aired initially in the Ok Yes podcast.
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