💀 Tend to your optimum workfself

STOICISM.DESIGN

Tend to your optimum workself

June 3, 2019

On one hand, work is clarifying. Part of the purpose of establishing simple morning routines - go for a walk, write in your journal, write your newsletter about stoicism to a bunch of designers - is that having a to-do list reduces decision fatigue. You don't have to worry about what to do next when you know what to do next.

Doing work we care about flexes important muscles, keeps us sharp, and in design and development helps keeps us current, which in itself is its own commodity. Constant practice at a craft evolves that craftsperson into an expert, which positions them into roles of leadership and mentorship, which evolve other character traits. Expertise through practice is the route through which we grow.

But work is a means to an end. You go to the gym to improve some aspect, but you can lift only so much before your body starts metabolizing the muscle you're building for energy. Making progress requires that you stop.

We're hiring a contractor we like who is eager and hungry for that experience, which is one of the many reasons we like him, but only through this experience of interviewing him have I given thought to the role one's management of one's self has in the workplace. Honestly, writing that seems a little silly because - um - that's kind of what this whole newsletter is about, but I'm not sure that this idea's dawned on me in this way before. This would be a side project for him in addition to a full-time job, and an alarm went off when he said he was available for an additional 20 hours per week. I'm no stranger to 50-60 hour work weeks in addition to family responsibilities, and - to me - this sounded like a quick commitment to burnout. Later, in an unrelated tweet, I noticed that he was talking about eye-strain while trying to figure out some code, and he was looking for advice about how to power-through.

Whoa there.

When you work, your work is best when you are operating at as close to 100% as you can. Right? I'm not saying anything controversial here. If you're working at 70%, it makes sense that you may be not making the best decisions.

As a manager, it's in my interest to have you work at that higher level, which means that it's in my interest to create as much of an environment as I can [afford] to give you room to recover.

As a stoic, I am suspicious of busyness. I have written already about busyness is in some cases akin to procrastination, which we should treat like a facade for deeper character flaws, but we can also look at busyness as a signal that the "busy" person isn't inwardly conscious. What is having too many things to do - other than being some kind of virtue signal, or a way to procrastinate - anything but having sufficiently prioritized that to-do list?

As a stoic manager, I facilitate that recovery period necessary for a designer to go from 70% back up to, say, 91%. This translates into the modular way I create a backlog, being super liberal with work hours, time-of-day, encouraging folks to use their sick leave, vacation frequently, etc. I don't care except that when you're doing work I'm accountable for you're doing it at a level I reasonably expect.

As a stoic designer, it's your responsibility to ensure that other aspects of your life in areas where our Venn Diagram doesn't overlap is similarly measured. You need to tend to your optimum self. That may mean reducing your commitments, "optimizing your capacity for your craft," as it were. It's not just that the work you do when you're flirting with burnout is unsustainable, but that the appearance of burnout is a signal of poor decision making you're broadcasting to the world.

Craft virtuously,
Michael Schofield

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