Over at Surviving and Thriving, proprietor Donna Freedman describes the exhaustion she feels after cramming too much work into too many hours for too many years:
But I’ve been on a dead run for years. I started out tired and the more things I take on, the more tired I become. Too often I meet deadlines at the expense of a personal life. Too often, writing is my life.
Don’t know how that woman does it, but somehow she manages to express exactly what’s crossing my mind, and she does it better than I can. Like Donna, I also am spending altogether too much of my life working (generally for very low pay) and altogether too little of it enjoying life. Last week’s mail meltdown, which led to 42 hours in front of the computer punctuated by a three-hour nap in the middle of the night, really was the watershed moment.
This stuff has gotta stop. I can’t keep on doing it. The overwork and the constant fatigue are starting to make me sick.
Yesterday at choir, just as we started to process up the center aisle at the start of the service, I suddenly had another dizzy spell. It was the third one to visit in a week or ten days, and by far the worst. I could barely walk, to say nothing of walking straight. People must have thought I was drunk! For a minute or so, I thought I was going to have to sit down, berobed, in one of the pews. That would have made a nice spectacle.
But no. Managed to stagger down the side aisle and out the side door with the assembled company, and I even managed to climb back up the steep staircase to the choir loft. Don’t know whether the cause is stress, migraine (a headache usually ensues and lasts all day), an inner-ear problem, MS, impending stroke, or a brain tumor…though I’m inclined to suspect the first.
Ugh. Whatever’s behind that, the fact is that despite many resolves to quit it, I still spend way, way, way too many hours in front of a computer.
A fair quantity of that time is spent reading the seemingly endless supply of news sources. I do need to be up-to-date with current events, not only to write this blog but to perform the teaching and editorial work I do, and so I consider that activity, though unpaid, to be part of my various jobs. And occasionally, when my brain starts to fry, I’ll take a break at my favorite Mah Jongg site or fill in the USA Today crossword. That time, too, is spent staring into a computer screen—which is to say, rest breaks do not take me away from the computer. Consequently, I can easily spend ten or twelve hours without getting up from my desk. Some days (and nights) I spend a lot more hours than that parked in front of Macintosh hardware.
So it occurred to me that if I rationed the number of hours spent online, I’d be forced to focus on work and not sit on my fanny nonstop. And if the computer were actually turned off, I would get up and do something else. Maybe I’d even leave the house and reacquaint myself with the out of doors.
The most likely day for that is Saturday. There really is no reason for me to have to work on the weekends (except that the magazine writing students have papers due on Fridays…next semester, we’ll be changing that). Another possibility is Wednesday afternoon. I have choir on Wednesday evening. Why can’t I take off the entire afternoon, rather than working through the dinner hour and then chasing out the door like a scared rabbit and arriving at rehearsal barely on time or late? Usually I end up fixing dinner after I get home—around 9:30 at night—which means I don’t get to bed before 11. If I sit back down to the computer after dinner, it’ll be after midnight before I crawl into bed.
Work expands to fill the time available.
But it may shrink to fit time available, if the time available is reduced.
This revelation came to me when I decided to take the dog for a walk at 5:00 a.m. (after dawn in these parts) instead of plopping down in front of the computer, as I habitually do. Walking the dog and then taking even more time to make the bed, shower, and brush my teeth did not cause any less work to happen during the day than I would have accomplished had I started stumbled to the computer the minute I rolled out of the sack. I actually got the same amount of work done—maybe even more. And in the meantime, I got a little bit of exercise and started the day refreshed.
Would the workload compress if a day or a day and a half were taken away from time spent at the computer?
Stay tuned—we shall see! Meanwhile, tell me…what do you do to control malignant work overload?