8/30: On Fatigue

Doing great work is fulfilling, but it is not the only thing in life.

This is the eighth of thirty days of stories.

On the first episode of his new podcast, Mike Tanner discusses the diminishing returns he experienced when he tried to work as much as he could in conjunction with his full-time schedule as a stay-at-home father.

As Mike tells it, he used to stay up until midnight or even 1 AM working, and the later it got, the less he was able to write, and the less productive he was. Rather than trying to push himself, he decided to make a clean break and commit to doing serious, focused work for a few hours a night, so that he could be up at 6:30 AM with his kids.

From a historical perspective, work/life balance is a fairly new concept, and it’s one that a lot of people are struggling with. A lot of us are like Mike; we’ve been made to think that the only way to get ahead is to work harder, to burn the midnight oil and leave ourselves behind in pursuit of the work.

We are working the hours that farmers worked, because that is the template of work society has decided upon. We’ve been taught over generations that any moments of idleness are counterproductive, and that we should be constantly committed to the cause, whatever it may be.

I grew up a night owl, and even as I become an adult with a job that demanded a four-kilometre walk at six in the morning, I still am a night owl. Even now, unemployed and with “spotty” (read: frustratingly, consistently awful) internet, I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone to bed before 1:30 AM (usually due to trying to get said internet to work). I‘ve written pieces for clients after midnight, when the inspiration has struck, or I’ve brushed up against a deadline.

Even if you’re not working full-time, fatigue has a way of sneaking up on you. Ignoring or silencing my alarm clock has become a growing habit of mine; I’ll turn over and go back to bed for another few hours.

If you look elsewhere, you can see that these expectations we have placed around work are having disastrous results. The most cautionary tale comes from Japan, which even has a specific word for the phenomena of death by overwork.

With job security lower than ever, there is a sense that people need to try to outdo each other to prove their worth. What is ten or even twenty extra hours a month? The issue is someone will work more hours than that, and it will devolve into a competition about who can work the most.

No work you ever do will be worth your life, and that’s a ridiculous thing to even have to say.

No one is denying that the work is important, but it’s far from the only important thing, and more and more people are talking about the insane hours that they choose to work like it’s some badge of honor. Everything needs to be put into perspective; even Mark Zuckerberg makes time for his wife and his daughter.

So go spend a weekend away with your family. Get caught up on the latest on Netflix. Read a book completely unrelated to your job. Play a video game, or two, or three. Take a breather from the work, and when you come back you’ll feel refreshed, ready to tackle anything and move mountains to solve problems.

If you enjoyed this piece, maybe you’d like to work with me?