ChangeReflectionAugust 5, 20143Too Much Of A Good Thing

Too much work, even work that you love, is no fun. Some ideas for keeping it good -

Can you have too much of a good thing?  We humans have been debat­ing this ques­tion since long before it first showed up in print (in Shake­speare’s As You Like It, around 1600).

Most of us would say yes, hav­ing expe­ri­enced the after-effects of a mega-dose of great wine, won­der­ful food, high-qual­i­ty choco­late, or even a fan­tas­tic party.

I’ve been expe­ri­enc­ing it late­ly with work: I love it — and there’s sim­ply a great deal of it late­ly.  I feel a some­what con­flict­ed about this.

First of all, I know I’m for­tu­nate to con­sid­er work “a good thing” at a time when sur­veys show that rough­ly two-thirds of all Amer­i­can employ­ees are unhap­py with their jobs. Also, I take great pride in the fact that Pro­teus and the work we do has become so high­ly thought of and in demand.  And final­ly, for some­one (me) who loves more than any­thing to sup­port peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions to clar­i­fy and move toward their hoped-for future — hav­ing so many oppor­tu­ni­ties to do just that is mar­velous: the career equiv­a­lent of a pound of Godi­va truffles.

But then there are the real­i­ties imposed by liv­ing in a phys­i­cal body — and one that’s got some mileage on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m healthy, strong and full of energy…but I can’t pow­er through a month of not enough sleep and too much trav­el like I could in my 30’s, 40s, or even my 50s.  And there’s also the fact that, to my great good for­tune, there are many oth­er things in my life besides work that I also love — hang­ing out with my dar­ling hus­band, kids and grand­kids; spend­ing time with friends; trav­el­ing — and a whole list of avo­ca­tions as well (gar­den­ing, read­ing, knit­ting, sudoku, cook­ing, hik­ing, learn­ing languages.…the list goes on).

So what’s a work-lover to do?  I’m dis­cov­er­ing that my approach to work needs to be very sim­i­lar to my approach to good food (which I also love): keep the qual­i­ty high, and be sen­si­tive to the symp­toms of over­do­ing it.

With food, what that looks like is: don’t waste my calo­ries on stuff that’s not worth it (junk food, things I don’t real­ly like, poor qual­i­ty), and stay atten­tive to my body telling me when I’ve had enough.

With work, what that looks like is: don’t waste my time on stuff that’s not worth it (tasks that oth­ers in my com­pa­ny can do just as well or bet­ter than I can; clients who don’t real­ly want to spend the effort or mon­ey need­ed to get results; ‘rab­bit hole’ con­ver­sa­tions that suck up valu­able time and men­tal ener­gy) , and stay atten­tive to my body (and brain) telling me when I’ve had enough — when I’m too tired to think well or focus prop­er­ly, or when my usu­al enthu­si­asm and hope­ful­ness start to wane.

And just as the solu­tion when food threat­ens to become too much of a good thing is sim­ply to stop eat­ing, the too-much-work solu­tion is the same: stop work­ing. Now I (like you, I sus­pect) can’t just walk off the job when it gets to be too much — but I can cre­ate lit­tle respites.  A day, an hour, even a minute when I turn my atten­tion to some­thing else — or to noth­ing else.

Ear­li­er today I was feel­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly over­worked.  Then sud­den­ly I was pre­sent­ed with some “found time.”  A client ses­sion end­ed much ear­li­er than expect­ed, and I had the choice to dig into the pile of to-dos that were back­logged on my computer…or lay down on my hotel bed and take a nap.

I napped.

When I woke up, I felt like a dif­fer­ent per­son. And I’m con­vinced that the work I did post-nap was both much high­er in qual­i­ty than it would have been pre-nap, and accom­plished much more quick­ly. Plus I real­ly enjoyed doing it.  And that’s the bot­tom line, real­ly — if you con­sis­tent­ly have too much of a good thing, then it stops being a good thing.  If you can fig­ure out how to have just enough of a good thing — that’s real­ly good. 


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