It seems that too many of us are stressed and over worked nowadays. Greedy employers demand more and more while offering less, and even those who would like to offer reasonable working conditions are themselves stressed by rising costs and increased competition, often from overseas where labor costs are far less. I could easily go into a rant on all of the governmental stupidity that encourages and increases these problems, but we'll leave that for some other time and place. This post is about dealing with stress and particularly so for those of us in the technical fields.
We all get stressed, but some professions are affected more by it and some have more ways to deal with it. For example, when I'm over tired or ill, I don't even try to do harder programming jobs or tricky support work. There's really no point: if I force myself into it, I'll just screw something up and create more work for myself later.
Unfortunately, sometimes things have to be done. I can often rearrange my schedule to do less demanding jobs on days where I'm impaired, but that's not always possible. In my case, it's always my choice: I might lose a customer by refusing to do the work on their schedule, but it is my choice. For people not self employed, the choice is still there, but it's not as easy: you might lose your job. Losing a job is not like losing one customer, as the financial loss is much greater. That's just one of the many reasons I prefer to work for myself, of course.
As all of us do, I violate my own rules now and then. While I know it would be smarter to just take a day off and relax, sometimes I make the call to do the work anyway.
It's almost always true that I regret my actions. Pushing myself when I'm really not 100% just adds to my problems, and is apt to just cause more stress and create a spiral: trying to satisfy one client's needs causes more impairment which then affects other clients. It's really better to just bite the bullet, take the time off, and rest.
But when I do choose to "tough it out", I always approach the task with lowered expectations and a bail-out plan. For example, if I simply have to be involved with code while over tired, I proceed much more slowly and carefully than I ordinarily would. I expect to get less done, and expect that I may make more mistakes. I document religiously, and make backups more often. I also am on the look out for "good enough" points: fixing something enough for now, with the plan to return to it when I'm more alert or less stressed by outside factors. But generally: I'm just going to take the time off, because I've learned it just doesn't pay to do otherwise.
How bad can it get? Well, I've been really tired for several weeks now. It came from the stress of moving, plus a few difficult clients, nothing really horrible individually, but it all added up. I'm just not running on all cylinders right now. But this Thursday night I played poker - dime ante, twenty cent maximum raise game. Not exactly high stakes - you'd have to play very badly to lose $20.00 in a night at that table. I managed to lose a bit more.. I folded a straight flush in a 7 card stud game where there were two Ace high flushes and a full house that filled up a big pot. I looked right at 8-9-10 of clubs in my down cards, and the Jack Queen in my up cards, looked over the threats, analyzed them dead on, and folded. In another round, I had three Aces in my first three cards. I bet, someone raised, and I folded. Don't ask why, the only answer is that I was too tired and stupid. Should a person capable of folding a straight flush and three Aces on the deal be doing programming? I don't think so..
We tend to easily make allowances for physical problems, but are less forgiving for mental impediments. If you have strained a shoulder muscle and your job is digging ditches, you expect to have to make allowances for the muscle strain. You expect to get less done, and most of us will try to avoid making the problem worse. We know that it makes more sense to rest the injury; that "pushing it" may just lead to a longer recovery period. This is just as true for those of us with more cerebral jobs, but few of us recognize the wisdom of going easy on ourselves when necessary.
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