Ethan Banks Tech podcaster & writer.

I Didn’t Even Know I Was Sick

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This piece was originally published in the Packet Pushers’ Human Infrastructure Magazine, a publication about the human side of working in technology. HIM is sent every other week or so to Packet Pushers Ignition members. Sign up for free.


I recently tweeted…

I’ve become okay with only having so much time in my schedule. Would adding this { new | random | unexpected } thing to the mix stress me out? Yes? Then I can’t do it. Have to leave some space. Have to execute well on the things already on the list.

I grabbed a couple of replies that especially impacted me.

Cutting Things Loose Has A Cost

The hard part for me is deciding when to cut things loose in order to make room for new things that are more valuable. Sometimes it’s natural, like a job transition, but most of the time it’s not. I’d rather make intentional choices, not wait until I’m burned out. Of course, often the major problem with intentionally stopping a project is the social cost. Disappointing people is expensive for multiple reasons. And it’s very difficult to weigh that against the benefit of doing something new.

@bensons

Benson crammed a whole lot of value into that reply that had me nodding my head in agreement and reflecting.

Cutting things loose. Identifying what’s most valuable is difficult. For me, the key is distinguishing what’s valuable to me versus what’s valuable to someone else. In my work, I’ve found that other people are happy for me do things for them that might not be the best use of my time.

My best work is found at the junction of projects I am uniquely capable of accomplishing and projects with the most substantial impact to others. The rest can be outsourced or cut.

Managers often use the desks of competent employees as a dumping ground. Respectfully pushing back can help. You’ll drown in an ocean of trivial tasks if you never speak up.

Not waiting for burn out. I recently realized that I’ve worked most of my career in a state of burnout. I’ve usually had one full-time job with an employer and one part-time job working for myself.

Technology work is stressful. Technology often works poorly, impacting businesses negatively. Add certifications to the mix, and it’s a formula for burn out. I’ve cycled through this formula repeatedly.

I don’t willingly live that way now. Although Packet Pushers has been my full-time job since 2015, travel became the side job. Since recently curtailing travel, I’m no longer constantly fretful or exhausted, i.e. burned out.

I didn’t realize I was living in this burned out state until I reduced my schedule and started feeling better. I was so used to feeling badly, that feeling good was a revelation. I didn’t even know I was sick.

Disappointing people comes with a cost. I am fearful that when I tell someone “no” or “no more” that I’ll alienate them. Sometimes, that’s exactly what happens. It’s a risk.

There is an upside to disappointing people, though. You get a manageable schedule. A manageable state of mind. A manageable life.

Being able to manage my life has become important. In recent cases where I’ve said “yes” to something I didn’t really want to, I regretted the time it took from my schedule and the energy it sapped from my life. I also resented the person that asked me to be involved. That’s not a productive mental state.

The Importance Of Margin

Margin is great as we go through different mountains and dips of life. Not always possible but I strive for it all the time.

@jonesychris

Chris says it well. Margin. For the first time since being a college-bound teenager, I have had holes in my schedule where there was nothing I had nor needed to do.

Don’t misunderstand–my project list is full. I have over 100 tasks representing projects large and small. But there’s a difference between a task list that represents opportunity and one that represents obligation.

If I have the margin Chris strives for, I can chase opportunities. If I have no margin, my life is overfilled by obligations, leaving no space for the opportunities. By reducing the obligation load created by travel, I’ve capitalized on opportunities.

Where Does This End Up?

I’ll experience burnout in the future, I’m sure. I’d be lying to myself if I thought I was in such control of my life that I’d never again be overextended.

However, I’ve remembered what feeling good is like. I’m not eager to let that go.

About the author

Ethan Banks

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.

Ethan Banks Tech podcaster & writer.

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.