It’s August, the month that winter starts to move on, that the English Premier League starts again, and one of my favourite months of the year. I’m not sure how we reached the 2/3rds mark in 2021, and almost 18 months of lockdown, but here we are, on the 2nd Tuesday of August, and another chance to contribute to the #sqlcommunity, and to write about the all things SQL Family related. Thanks, as always, to Adam Machanic (t|b) for starting T-SQL Tuesday, and to Steve Jones (t|b), for his contribution (and website).
Trying to keep those scales balanced has been a focus and a struggle from time to time.From the T-SQL Tuesday invitation
I have previously written in more detail about some of my favourite things to do outside of work (playing and watching sport, travelling, going to the bush, and musical theatre). So today, I though I would write about a slightly different view of balance, and something that I always try to remember about work, and my life.
You can’t function at 110% all the time!
Working in IT, we know that there are periods of extreme stress, with important changes, deadlines and other factors. And when these periods occur, we often have to reach into our reserves to ensure that we get through them. Whether that means working long hours and weekends, or weeks where you reach into your reserves and are twice as productive as usual, these periods are physically and mentally draining.
These periods are fine, PROVIDED there are periods where you can recover, either with physical time off, or just a slightly lighter workload, and much less stress.
This is where my idea of balance comes in. I used to work through those rough patches, burn myself out, but then still try to work at 100% time and productivity all the rest of the time. In addition, on weekends I had commitments to cricket umpiring which took a full day of each weekend, and a large portion of my leave.
Unsurprisingly, I ended up in a situation where my output levels declined, and I worked more and more hours to compensate for that, and the cycle continued until I took a break.
Athletes work out at varied intensity levels. You should too.
This is my default analogy for dealing with trying to achieve balance in my work and personal life. Even the top sports persons in the world do not train at full intensity all the time, because they, and their trainers, recognise the need for rest and recovery.
We don’t put the same kind of physical stress on our bodies in IT, but we often do strain our bodies with too little sleep, too much coffee, and way too many hours in front of screens. In addition, we deal with prolonged periods of stress without a break or downtime.
Different races, different paces
Continuing with the sports metaphor, different work problems need different types of energy spend. Some projects are like a sprint, requiring super intense bursts of work at 2 or 3 times normal output, until a specific problem is solved. Others problems are more like a marathon, requiring a steady grind at 110% or 120% for a longer period of time. Other problems are like trying to save a cricket test match where you have to do a hundred simple things, but you cannot make a single mistake. This kind of mental exertion is just as tiring as the physical aspect of sport.
Regardless of how you’re spending the energy, if you’re not spending enough time recovering, you WILL burn out. And just like an athlete who’s body is not functioning at 100%, your performance will suffer.
You must take control
The toughest part of achieving balance this way, is realising that it is only you that can ensure that you get the right balance in your life. You need to feel comfortable enough to recognise when you are starting to burn out, and plan to find some recovery time as soon as possible. You need to have the tough conversations with bosses, underperforming team members, and unrealistic customers, to explain the reality, and your need to slow down. You need to find ways to treat your body right, by doing things that allow you to recover, whether that means high intensity non-work activities like working out or playing sport, getting out in to nature, or pampering yourself with a massage.
People will always want more than you can give. Companies will always want more than you can afford. For the sake of your career, your relationships and your health, you need to treat yourself right, and set boundaries to ensure a healthy life balance.
Just for fun
For T-SQL Tuesday #99, I wrote my own lyrics to the wonderful, “My Favourite Things” from “The Sound of Music”. For me, having a good work/life balance is keeping myself busy enough when I’m not working, so that I’m not thinking about work. So here, in waltz time, is the way I maintain that balance.
Rump steaks and lamb chops, by choice I would braai them.
Roasted potatoes, or else I would fry them.
Pasta or Mexican. Anything sweet.
These are my favourites to cook and to eat.
Solving for Codenames, or beating Pandemic
Build a Dominion through actions systemic
Risk, Terra Mystica, Ticket to Ride
Board games, my favourite when I am inside.
Wicked and Oliver, Hair, The Producers
Les Miserables, where EVERYONE loses
Rent, Book of Mormon, and The Lion King
I love the theatre when characters sing.
Lack of backups
When the data’s bad
I simply remember there’s life outside work
And then I don’t feel so sad