Apathy -The Overworked Predicament

In the first post in the Apathy series we took a general look at some of the reasons for apathy, now it is time to dig a little deeper and see what, if anything, can be done to make you care again. First up that feeling of being overworked.

I think most people out there know what it feels like to be overworked for short periods of time. There are some weeks when there is just too much to get done and you have to burn the midnight oil somewhat to get a key project completed, a piece of infrastructure rolled out, some vital code written, or your AGs set up. This is not something unexpected, but it really becomes a problem when this becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Symptoms of being overworked

The point at which a person becomes overworked is different for everyone, however there are some reasonable guidelines that can be looked at as general indicators. Some of these may or may not apply to you:

  • Worked more than 10 hours of overtime each week for the last 6 weeks (applies to hourly workers)
  • Worked more than 60 hours a week each week for the last 6 weeks (salaried workers)
  • Work queue is as long, or longer than it was a few weeks ago
  • No reasonable expectation of your workload decreasing in the immediate future
  • Weekends are no longer your own
  • Your kids want to know when mommy/daddy is coming home
  • Your partner wants to know when you are coming home
  • Your partner no longer expects to see you at home
  • You no longer have a partner
  • You are living on a steady diet of junk food
  • Typing quietly is important so that you don’t wake other people in the house
  • Mainlining caffeine just isn’t working for you any more
  • You’re pretty sure that you had friends at one point
  • Taking time off is not an option because of all the work that will pile up waiting for your return
  • You don’t think you can rely on others in the team and so have to be involved in everything that happens

I could probably go on listing things for another day or so, but I’m pretty sure that you’ve got the point by now. So what can be done?


Attacking that overworked feeling

Step 1 is admitting that you have a problem.

That statement may sound a little flippant, but it isn’t.

Being overworked is something that can very easily creep up on you when you aren’t looking. All of a sudden out of nowhere you’ve worked 21 days in a row, and there’s a big project looming. You feel tired, the other people at work don’t have a clue, and you have to get this thing turned around. You missed the kids ball game, they are upset, and your partner is mad.

This is a very easy trap to fall into. So pay attention to what is going on with you, and around you with the people that you care about.

So you’ve realized that you are overworked. What are you going to do about it? Time for a plan of attack…


Is anyone going to die because x didn’t get done?

No, really, if you don’t create that pull request, reindex that table, or build out that new server will somebody die? I’m pretty sure that the answer here is no. And if that is not the case it’s time to grab a little perspective, and a breather.


What are your true priorities?

When I moved to the U.S. one of the things I was warned about was that in America you live to work rather than work to live.

In many countries having a job is about being able to keep a roof over your head, food in the cupboard, clothes on your back, and a bit of cash in your pocket to hang out with your friends. In America there seems to be a culture where, if you aren’t coming in early and working late, then there’s something wrong with you. You have to work all the hours in order to climb that corporate ladder and make it to the next level. Why? Because reasons, that’s why, so buck up little camper and get back to it.

Take a few hours and figure out the things that are important to you.

If the most important thing to you is climbing that ladder then keep working those crazy hours. Otherwise, get some focus on what matters to you. Is it seeing your family, or friends? Is it being able to have the time to visit a new place, play a new video game, or read the latest sci-fi novel (read The Expanse series, seriously, and watch the show).

I have friends who have gone through various levels of health issues over the last couple of years, and they all come to the recognition that there are far more important things out there than working all the time. What do you want your memory to be? That night when you pushed this key commit, or the weekend that you spent riding through the Cascade mountains on a motorbike with your family?


Building trust in your team (if you have one)

Why don’t you trust your team? Is it really their fault, or are you a control freak? Try easing up on those reins a little bit, see what happens. They might just surprise you.

If you walked in to an existing team, they were there before you, and the company had not crumpled, then there is a very strong chance that it won’t do so now if you let them take on some responsibility for things (and they would probably welcome that too). On the flip side of this, if they do get to do things and prove themselves to not be able to do the job, then that’s a chance for management to be able to replace them, and you get someone who can take some of that workload from you. Win/win!

If the team contains people that you’ve been a part of bringing in and you don’t trust them, you’ve never trusted them, well then why did you say it was OK to bring them in at all? Again, you have to give them the chance to succeed or fail, and if they fail, well it’s on them, and it might give you the opportunity to replace them.

A lot of the time you’ll find that your team members will step up and take things on, and could well surprise you. Sure, it is difficult letting something go that first time, but it will end up being worth it in the long run, and the more you let go, the more comfortable you will be with it, and you could even end up with a manageable workload.


Dumping repetitive tasks

That 60 hours of work a week you’ve been doing, how much of that is repetitive? Are you fixing a recurring issue? Rerunning a certain set of reports? Doing some checking on a standard process? Attending a veritable plethora of meetings?

Time to work on some fixes.

Recurring issues

This recurring issue, rather than spend another 3 hours this week fixing it, spend 10 hours figuring out the root cause and putting in a permanent fix. Sure, you might have to do some more work on it down the line you’ve just cleared up 3 hours a week and a headache that you didn’t need.

The three hours that you just saved you can spend next week putting together the permanent resolution to another issue. This work quickly cascades to a point where you aren’t dealing with these things any longer.

Rerunning reports

Rerunning reports is a painful thing. SQL Server has plenty of ways that you could remove those regular reports from your workload. You could setup SSRS, or even just use sp_send_dbmail to send the data out. Well that just freed up another two hours.

If you work in a secure shop, where devs and PMs don’t get access to the data you may end up with some ad-hoc stuff that comes along, that can’t be helped, although that would be a great time to engage your colleagues (if you have any).

Checking standard processes

Every morning when you get to the office, or when you first wake up, you are checking to see what processes succeeded and failed overnight. You are looking to see if ETL process B was able to connect to server N and retrieve data C, then load that into database D so that Bob and Sheila in accounting can check if the new widget calculations are amortizing correctly. How do you check this? First thing is to log on to the server and look at the jobs that ran and whether or not they were successful. Then you log on to all of your SQL machines to look and see if the backup jobs ran without issue overnight.

This is doing things dramatically wrong.

Setup failure notifications on your jobs, even better put a trigger notification on the job history table that will let you know what the failure was, get an automated email sent out that will tell you the state of your backups. Stop all this manual work. Put a few hours in here (and lots of others have already done most of the work for you) and you’ll save crazy amounts on the back end.


Meeting free days

There are few things that cause productivity to plummet quite like meetings. Some places love them with a passion, but all they do is tie up your time while people prattle on about things that generally do not concern you. As such, why waste your time in them?

Let everybody know that from now on you are taking one day a week and blocking it out on your calendar, and on that day you will not be attending any meetings, stand-ups, ad-hoc get togethers, or hootenannies. That is going to be the day that you get to knuckle down and focus. That day will be the one where you figure out that recurring nightmare, setup those notification emails, and build those reports for Reginald.

Explain to your boss why you are doing this and the benefit that it will bring to the company having you do actual work rather than not pay attention during a 45 minute PowerPoint on the relative pros and cons of lemon vs lime in a gin & tonic (go with lemon by the way).

All of this new found freedom could make you skip like a happy child. Really, meetings are hell.


Speak to the boss

You work for someone (unless you really are your own boss, in which case, good for you, you should take care of this person working for you, they are important). Does the person you work for know how hard you are working? Do they know how many hours you are putting in each week?

If not, why not? Your boss needs to hear about what is going on with you. If the workload is to heavy there might be something that they can do about it. There might be things that they could take off your plate, people they could redirect elsewhere, or they might be simply be able to give you insight into what is and what is not important so that you don’t waste your time going down rabbit holes for things that just do not matter all that much.


Take a vacation

I hear you cry out “but if I take a vacation then all of this work will be there when I get back from it!”

Yup, it sure will. And?

When you take vacation there are a few potential things that will happen

  • The world will come crashing down on the company and it won’t be there when you get back
  • Your colleagues will step up and ensure things that need to get handled will get handled (if you are a part of a team)
  • Nothing will have moved forward and you’ll still have lots of work, but you will have had some time off to rest, recuperate, and be able to come back with a clearer head

So where is the downside of taking a vacation? Do you really think the mentally and physically drained version of you is being all the productive anyway? Research says that you probably aren’t.


Final word

There are lots of things that you can do when you are overworked to try and change the situation. I’ve covered just a few of them above. If you have other thoughts or ideas I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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