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Tired and stressed

© January 2006 Anthony Lawrence
January 2006

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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Sat Jan 21 16:24:33 2006: 1538   BigDumbDinosaur

Interesting you should bring up this subject right about now. I too have been running subpar the last month or so. Part of it I attribute to getting older: I simply don't have the energy that I used to have 10-15 years ago. Another reason is an ongoing problem involving my back, which was injured in a fall many years ago, and continues to deteriorate over time. The problem can't be surgically repaired, and at my age (I'm in my sixties), surgery is something to be avoided like an IRS audit. Adding to the mix, the Bears' defense was totally useless in their first playoff game and, once again, it's "wait 'til next year!" At least the White Sox won the series -- I never expected to see that in my lifetime. But I digress...

A good part of it, I think, is a general malaise on my part brought about by the seeming futility of trying to make headway against a system that increasingly is squeezing out the small guy (that would be folks like Tony and me). A lot of the support work I used to do has bought a one-way plane ticket to Calcutta. Clients are trying to get more for less, and are not willing to pay for high quality products and services anymore. The hardware side of my business is weak: people would rather pay 500 dollars for a piece of crap computer and live with the problems than invest in something that will perform and not blow up.

Uncle Sam does his part as well, as he keeps devising new ways to relieve us working stiffs of our hard-earned money, only to hand it over to people who haven't earned it (you welfare recipients who were screaming "Yuh gots to hep me!" at news cameras in New Orleans know who you are). Our government at all levels seems to be permeated with crooked politicians on the take from equally loathsome lobbyists. Our judicial system is populated with people who forget that this country was built by hard work and vision, not by legal decisions that reward stupidity and indolence, or that steal from the population so as to benefit a select few (does eminent domain ring a bell, Justice Souter?).

It is on days when I dwell on subjects like the above that I tend to get in a funk and become less productive. This is especially bad for any self-employed wonk, because if that wonk doesn't get the work done, no one else will pick up the slack, and no money will get made. My only recourse when I descend into this self-inflicted slump is to redouble my efforts to stay focused and keep the wheels of progress rolling. It isn't easy -- the road often seems to be clogged with too many cars being driven by nincompoops who don't know their butts from a toilet seat -- but it's pedal to the metal, damn the torpedos and full speed ahead (okay, so I mixed up my metaphors -- just shoot me and put me out of my misery).

BTW, less you think I'm disillusioned with self-employment, I will tell you, as Tony did above, working for yourself is still better than working for some dickhead whose main concern is covering his ass. At least when you are both the boss and the employee, all asses get covered at the same time. Peace!

Sat Jan 21 17:55:38 2006: 1539   TonyLawrence

Maybe I should play poker with you :-)

Sat Jan 21 18:06:31 2006: 1540   bruceg2004

Wow, it seems everyone is feeling this way lately! I am finally coming out of being sick, that started before we went to DisneyWorld back in November. Yes, Disney helped me feel better, but I was still sick the whole time I was there, and travelling on an airplane did not help much - it left me with a clogged ear, which this week finally popped! I could barely hear for months, and it was very annoying. I also got the flu in the middle of all that, and slept for 72 hours straight, getting up to use the bathroom, and try to eat some soup, and drink some water. I had no energy.

My energy is just coming back, and my projects piled up on me, while I was under the weather. Now, I have a lot of catch-up work to do, and that is adding even more stress! I did go into work this AM, and will need to do some work on Sunday, but I am going into Boston for dinner and a movie with my wife today, and my daughter is at my folks house.

I wish you both the best, and can only say that things can only get better (I hope).

- Bruce

Sun Jan 22 16:19:19 2006: 1544   BigDumbDinosaur

Maybe I should play poker with you :-)

It would be a one-sided game. I don't know how to play any card games except Solitaire, which is one of the few games I play on computers ("Get bin Laden" is another one -- it combines the best aspects of pistol marksmanship with plain old destructiveness).

Mon Jan 23 16:38:06 2006: 1545   anonymous

Try yoga or any other kind of meditation. It takes about a half hour every day, and helps calm down frayed nerves. A search on google should yield many sites that tell you how to do it. Though I don't practice it myself, I know many who have had major relief.

Tue Jan 24 15:38:36 2006: 1546   BigDumbDinosaur

Try yoga or any other kind of meditation...Though I don't practice it myself, I know many who have had major relief.

And if that doesn't work there's always really hot sex. <Grin>


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