A CNBC article published in Entrepreneur Magazine July 17th 2012, just days before her move to Yahoo!, detailed how Marissa Mayer prevents burn-out working 130 hours a week often sleeping on her desk. "You can't have everything you want," Mayer cautions. "But you can have the things that really matter to you. That empowers you to work really hard for a long period of time on something that you're passionate about." She tells readers to watch out for resentment, find your rhythm and choose what is not negotiable and keep your commitment. Is the Tuesday dinner or daughters game the place you need to be present? Then never compromise on this, it will allow you to work harder and longer.
18 days earlier, I read an article by Tim Kreider called The "Busy" Trap. He observed a growing trend in his inner circle not just being "busy", but "CRAZY BUSY". This busy proclamation Kreider theorizes fills in a gap in peoples roles at work were most of us no longer make or build anything tangible. It creates a buffer between meaning, gaps of emptiness and ourselves. This busy syndrome is not only self-inflicted, but we foist it upon those around us, after all, if all of our friends and colleagues are too busy to see a movie, get that email written or turn in the budget on time, then we too must get crazy busy to appear we are just as important as the person we are trying to impress. He provides an example of a woman in New York who was "too busy to date" and moved to the south of France and is now hanging out with friends every night and has a boyfriend. Uh, ok. I am not sure what this means...should we all move to France? Perhaps we can explore what works here.
Enter the technical woman. We have always had huge demands on our time. Tech moves quickly and to stay on top of what is going on it requires being connected and informed about what is going on around you. In the 1970's my dad would come home late from the office, but that was it - when he was home, he was home. In the 1990's I would get new software manuals once a year, I would read them (at night) and I knew what was going on in my area of technology for at least the next year until the next release. Now it's 24x7 - multiple technologies, multiple opinions - there are hundreds of ways to solve that problem, there are new fixes, new patches, new acquisitions and new players. The information flow is like a fire hose. It's constant and unrelenting. As a woman, we feel the need to be on top of it sans the opinion that we are falling behind or can't keep up.
There is another observation I have seen over the last 3-4 years talking to thousands of technical women around the world. We are doing a lot more with a lot less resources. When a group cuts 20% of their workforce, and then 10% and then 2% etc...but the company continues to grow and expand someone is picking up that work and chances are, it's a woman. A managers goal is to hand this "detail work" off to the individual contributors, leaving managers free to manage up and avail themselves to the endless meetings they must attend. Women are often seen as the plow-horses of a group. You can keep giving them more and more work and they manage to get it all done. And in this great-depression, there I said it, you better not complain or your name will be on the top of the next down-size list. The pressure is on to do more ... with less.
This increase in workload and lack of resources has moved into our personal lives. We are checking emails at night, when we wake up, on the weekends. We are "kicking things off", "running that upgrade" and finishing that email on Sunday afternoons to get a head start on the work week but then so are your colleagues, your boss and your reports. If you are a global workforce, the work week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday, it's 24 hours a day. I finish conversations in the US at night only to start the ones in India until the morning.
Does this sound familiar? I know it does for many of you.
So back to Marissa - she says you need to watch out for resentment as this leads to burn-out. How long can you stay on this crazy busy train before you feel resentment? The line between sacrificing for the organization and the organization taking advantage of the moment to pile it on is blurred. If you are fortunate, you have a boss who is feeling the squeeze and you work together to resolve some of the strain. At a minimum, when the load is balanced in a group, you don't feel alone. What if you don't? What if doing the work of three people is assumed and there is no break and no resources on the way? I know there are women out there who are in this spot. What to do? I have some ideas, but many you have heard these ideas before (I know I have) but this can't be all. I really want to hear from others who have been in this position and how they made it more bearable. Some options:
1. Make a list of everything you do. Figure out what is getting you what you need, what you can hand off to others and what needs to go away and pragmatically pick them off.
2. Unplug one night a week. A friend of mine told me a story over dinner of a consulting IT company who asked their team to unplug one night a week. What happened? The team planned and was more focused - the assumption everyone was online all of the time changed to one of making sure what was important was covered. People are happier.
3. Take your vacation. Yes, I know you are aware of this one. The more you can unplug, the better.
4. Talk to your friends and colleagues. What solutions do they have? Want to share with us? PLEASE SHARE!!!
You are awesome technical women. You are changing the world.