Recently I was interviewing someone for a position on my team. This is a hard thing for me because I don’t actually believe in interviews – I don’t think they’re a great way to figure out who will be good for a particular job (unless the job is being interviewed).
When you ask people questions, they answer them in the way that they think you want. This is not helpful.
I generally default to telling the person everything I think they need to know about the position (the good, the bad, the potential, etc.) and then I demand that they ask questions. The questions they ask, the things that concern (or excite) them, give me a lot more insight into their perspectives and their priorities.
During this interview, one of my coworkers asked the interviewee the question: How do you know when you’re burning out? How do you know when you need a break?
As the interviewee was answering, I was mentally checking things off on a list inside my head. Huh.
I do not think that I am burning out.
I do think that my job is pretty intense at the moment – chock full of controversy and angry people and death (in the literal sense) – and that I need to be careful about taking stock of my life in order to sustain a reasonable level of energy to put towards my job.
My job is really incredibly good for my brain – it hits all of the right buttons to keep me motivated and interested. Some days are super easy and other days are super hard. Some days I do things that scare me and most days I do things well-within my comfort zone. I meet a lot of people. I get to provide education about a big topic. I chat with the media. I get to write, to speak in public, to create empathy and understanding.
The people I manage are phenomenally self-motivated and focused on what they do – so I get to pop in to help trouble shoot and do some admin and otherwise mostly get to enjoy the entire team. All of my coworkers are, in various ways, committed and passionate and range from ‘really good’ to ‘fucking amazing’ at their jobs.
The thing is, I also work a lot. Many, many more hours than my contract (ha) and often my default when I have some downtime is to do more work. This is my own fault – there is no one standing over me insisting that I work all the hours, all the days.
Part of the problem is that my job is never-ending – there will never be a time when my work is finished. All of the projects that I work on are ongoing, with varying levels of attention needed on any given day/week/month. If I’m not working on Project A, there are 5 things I can do for Project B, etc. My email inbox is never, ever empty for more than 5 minutes. There are presentations and workshops booked nearly every week and I can tweak them constantly. There are flyers to create, spreadsheets to update, reports to send to various places. There are meetings for many committees and groups – locally and provincially.
Literally, I could work 24/7 and still have stuff to do.
This means I prioritize urgent things, of course, but it also means that I have to work really hard to stop working.
The challenge I have right now is that my work is doing such a great job of hitting all my good buttons that I am struggling to do things that aren’t work-related. My brain gets a big flood of happy chemicals when I accomplish work things (some more than others, obv) that it’s hard to find the internal motivation to do things that don’t result in that same happy chemical dump.
And since the bulk of my day is being “on” in various ways, it’s hard to hit the switch. When I do manage to shut it down, my brain is just.. empty. I could sit and stare at a wall, in silence, for hours. I feel myself creeping toward the ‘high’ of work stuff again out of boredom.
This is a weird place to find myself. I have always – ALWAYS – had a ridiculous number of varied hobbies. Some big, some small, some done well, and some done really (really) badly – but things that could occupy my mind and generate some contentedness. I do not want to be bored with non-work time – that’s ridiculous.
Right now, for example, I know there are a bunch of emails in my work inbox – and I could, should?, flip over to that tab (it’s pretty much never closed) and reply to a few. By not doing it right now, I’m prolonging the inevitable and probably pissing off someone who was hoping for a quick response. One email will turn into 10. It’ll require me opening up my calendar and finding space for more work, inevitably.
But I’m working late tonight – until at least 9, if not a bit later – so true balance would mean that I’m not touching work things until around 1:00 at the earliest. Instead, I’ve been trying to putter around the house and eat some breakfast and read some articles I’ve saved.
Sounds good, right?
But I googled a work-related thing early this morning.
Then I updated my work facebook page.
I wrote a thing on my own (personal) facebook wall about something work-related.
I checked my work email this morning and checked my phone for texts.
And now that I know some of what’s lingering out there, it’s hard to focus on anything else.
It’s been very easy for me to say that I’ll just “flex my time” which is.. well, at this point it’s a bit hilarious. There are days when I am able to do that, but mostly I can’t – – because even when I say that I’ll “take Tuesday off” I’ll get an email telling me about a meeting that I need to attend… on Tuesday.
I’m not burning out in the sense that I’m losing compassion for our clients, or that I can’t find the motivation to go to work in the morning. But all of my mental energy is being used up at work and that seems like a problem.
Is there a solution? I don’t know.