It was dark… very dark.
The darkness would have been complete, save for the blue-tinged glow coming from my monitor. With an annoyed sigh, I reached over and flicked on my desk lamp, restoring a moderate pool of light to my desk. I really hated it when the janitors turned off all the lights when they left. Didn’t they know people were trying to work?
“I’m pretty sure that’s singular not plural.”
Suppressing a groan I peered into the darkness beyond my desk. “What now, Hogarth?”
His black fur made him all but invisible until he ambled into small pool of light given off by my lamp . “I was just saying I think it’s singular. There isn’t anyone else in the building.”
Hogarth gave a shrug. “Well it is 11:00 pm.”
“Most humans might consider that a reasonable time for no one to still be working.”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose and desperately wished for my personal gorilla to make like a banana and split. “Why are you here, Hogarth? I’ve got another three hundred emails to process through and then I have the quarterly status report to work on.”
“The quarterly that’s due in two weeks?” He asked.
“Yes, I want to get an early start.”
“At 11:00 pm?”
I looked up in annoyance. “Was there something you wanted?”
Hogarth nodded. “Oh, yeah. A new code of conduct was just put out by the HR monkeys. ” He laid a vellum scroll down on my desk and carefully unrolled it to reveal three lines in elegant calligraphy (Leave it to the HR monkeys to go overboard on communications). I leaned over to read the new code of conduct.
1. You may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. You must obey the orders given to you by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. You must protect your own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
I stared up at my gorilla in confusion. “Hogarth, these are Azimov’s Three Laws of Robotics“
He nodded ever so sagely. “Yes, yes they are.”
“But I’m not a robot, I’m a human.”
He cocked his head to the side “Really?”
Peet’s my horse. Or as I often think of him, my four legged stress relief valve. When Peet and I are cantering up a hill, at close to twenty miles an hour, the last thing on my mind is anything to do with work. In fact I learned early on that you don’t even try to think about work when on horseback. If you let your mind wander, your horse can and will obligingly steer you into a tree (because you told him to when you weren’t paying attention to your hands and legs).
I remember when I first got Peet. I’d never owned a horse before and could count on two hands the number of times I’d ridden one. (Now you might wonder why on earth I was buying a horse, but I learned a long time ago to listen to my incredible wife and this was another of those times I did.) About three months after I’d bought him, one of my co-workers commented to me how much calmer I seemed. Only three months as a horse owner and it had already had a profound effect on me. Now, years later, I find it hard to imagine not having a horse and being able to escape everything by saddling up and heading out on the trail for an hour or more.
If Hogarth and Peet have not explained my point well enough, let me quote James Howell’s famous proverb.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Let’s take a moment to examine Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” As knowledge workers we live in the depths of this law day in and day out. I can come to the office at 5:00 am, work straight through to 8:00 pm and still be guaranteed that there will be more work for me to do tomorrow. I will never catch up. There will always be one more email, one more report, one more meeting. Parkinson’s Law will always fill any time you give it with more work.
So don’t give it more time.
It’s up to you to set the boundaries. It’s up to you to realize that you can often be more effective, by doing less. Peter Taylor wrote two books on this entire concept, the Lazy Project Manager and the Lazy Winner, both of which I can recommend as worth the read.
Don’t believe Peter? How about your eye doctor? Anyone who’s worked with computers for any length of time has probably seen the recommendations to look away from your computer every few minutes. If you keep them fixed on the screen all day, you are exposing yourself to huge headaches and possibly wearing out your poor eyes so that they need glasses (or stronger prescriptions for those of us already spectacled).
At the end of the day I can’t offer you any pithy words of wisdom or sure fire management techniques (learned from people far smarter than I). At the end of the day all I can do is say one thing.