So there’s some real science as to why we’re frazzled. And not only why we’re frazzled, but also why it can be so hard to find a way out, yet completely crucial to find that way given the costs at stake.
Neuro-science (which let’s remember is only about 30 years old as a proper discipline) is telling us from MRi scans that the frontal lobe – the bit of our brain the gives us our best thinking – is particularly susceptible to cognitive fatigue. And at the same time for most people in the Western world it is also completely overloaded with inputs.
I’ve found Daniel Kahneman’s book – Thinking Fast & Slow – really helpful here in understanding what’s known as “decision fatigue”. Knowledge workers like you and me spend out days making hundreds, sometimes thousands of decisions – large and small. It explains why at the end of a day where we’ve bounced from meeting to meeting, given directions to team members, negotiated deals, created content, managed clients, developed solutions and sifted through a small mountain of email and online communications, we can end up utterly exhausted. And all that despite sometimes not feeling like we’ve really achieved much!
Anyway, the real problem is the long term accumulation of said fatigue. Because we simply get used to it.
In my case, I accept the ache as normal. I keep producing amidst a mental fog that slowly seems to get more dense. And it’s all because I don’t esteem the idea of rest.
I keep telling myself a story that “Well, if clients and the team are delighted and value seems to be flowing all over the place then things must be ok, right? Just keep going”.
But deep down I know (and mostly avoid) three nagging realities…
i) Even though the recipients of what I do are happy, I secretly know quality of my work could and should be better. And better wont come from simply working harder.
ii) Just keeping pushing isn’t going to be sustainable for the long term. What’s the point of succeeding this year and failing over ten?
iii) My family and friends deserve more. It’s not ok for me to consistently be a bit of a zombie in the evenings and at weekends because I engineer the week to be so draining.