I'm now several weeks into "The Hours", and I've made a startling, but painfully obvious conclusion.
I'm drowning in expectational debt.
As I have started to piece together the true value of my time and attention, it's showing me just how long it takes to do certain things, and how grossly inadequate my estimations for how long it really takes to complete things really is. I don't say this to ask for any one's pity. I say this as yet another realization that I'm human, just like everyone else.
I sat down and I did a simple experiment, based on the time commitments of many of the things that I would like to accomplish, as well as the things that I need to accomplish. On one side, I put down the roles of all the things I need to do, should do, and want to do for my job and career and how long it takes to do them all using a standard eight hour day. If I spent a solid six hours each day doing those things, it would be a pretty solid representation (I say six hours because there's always meetings, email and other necessary distractions that keep us all from doing 100% all day every day).
I balanced that with all of the things that I do in my off hours, and it was a very interesting list:
- Husband and Father
- Church member
- AST Treasurer
- ED-SIG Chair
- Podcast Producer
- BBST Instructor
- WTA Facilitator
- TESTHEAD blogger
- Conference Presenter
- SummerQAmp materials curator/developer
- Administrator for local music web site
Now, let's just imagine that I wanted to spend a simple amount of time on each of these endeavors... say my customary "hour per day". Add in a commute that is realistically door to door an hour long each way (2)
Plus a solid work day (8)
Plus putting in some time to work on all of these listed areas (12)
Oh, and let's say that we want to have a little time to shower, shave, brush teeth, get dressed, keep clothes clean and maybe do a little work around the yard to keep the house barely presentable... I've gone into negative hours, and I haven't even factored in sleep.
That's what we call rampant expectational debt. The really sad part, it pains me to want to cut from anything. Each and every one of things is fun, and interests me greatly. I don't do them because they are forced upon me, I do them because I'm genuinely interested and having fun. Still even having fun reaches a limiting point.
The danger with expectational debt is that we keep making promises, and we know that we really want to fulfill all of them. We have every intention of fulfilling them all, and if time would just cooperate with us, we would finish them all. That's the problem. Time doesn't stop. For anyone. It just keeps inexorably marching forward. At some point any of three things happens. In one scenario, we cross the finish line and get everything done, but hey, some of it is late, and we can live with that. In another scenario, we do our best to move everything forward, but much like the minimum payment on multiple credit cards, it moves us only fractionally forward, even though we have expended a monumental effort. In the final scenario, we get frustrated, declare expectational bankruptcy, and just throw our hands in the air and say "I quit!". Well, I'm struggling to be the first, frequently resemble the second, yet I refuse with every fiber in my being to be the third. The thought of me giving up and letting people down really kills me; I'd rather do anything than be considered a flake.
Still, when we rack up large amounts of expectational debt, we do no one any favors, least of all ourselves. I'm realizing that I have to re-negotiate a few things, and that that re-negotiation will mean that some things will be done in synergy with other things, some things will be scaled back, and some things will, at least for a time, need to be eliminated altogether. It's the nature of the beast, and in some ways, it's painful, because no one wants to let anyone down. Not really, anyway. The flip side to this is that, when we take on way more than we can feasibly do, we are already letting everyone else down. We are driven to distraction, and we find that, no matter how hard we try, we can't fill the gap. In this wise, it's better to take the medicine and upset the few rather than find ourselves in the situation where we are upsetting everyone.
As I've stated in the past, I blog about these things not because I'm some guru, but because I genuinely struggle with this stuff. I realize in some ways this post will rip the mask off of me, and expose me for the human being I sometimes wish i could pretend I am not. Still, it's through various techniques like "the Hours" that we finally discover who we truly are. Not who we claim to be, not who we desire to be, not who we deeply wish we'd be. Instead, we get to face ourselves, warts and all, and see what we really value and what we possibly don't as much. If we prioritize our lives, some things just have to give. For some, that's easy. For others, it's the hardest thing in the world to do. Take a wild guess which camp I'm part of?
Awesome post and given me a lot of food for thought.
Kudos to you for putting yourself out there and writing such an honest post
Good one and a situation I was trapped in a short while ago. One of the reasons I dropped all the blogging, tweeting, etc.
Let's use some test approaches...
If you replace expectational debt with emotional debt not much in the post would change. Or would it? Where does the expectation come from? Who makes me feel bad? Answers on a postcard...
I reckon you got there in time because on the road trying to make everyone happy lies depression and anxiety as you may have experienced. I've actually seen that in quite a few testers, especially the ones who wanted to be good at what they're doing.
I had a few personal events in my life that focused me on what's really important, not what I thought is. Sometimes that's necessary, you probable got there before.
Some Yogi's say that you need to help yourself before you can help others. That doesn't mean to be selfish but if you're in no position to help yourself how can you assist other people?
Hat's off for writing this post.
@Phil and @Thomas, thanks for the comments. I've long found that, if I want to really get in touch with something and no longer be mindless about it, writing stuff down is the best way (concerned with weight? Write down everything you eat. Concerned about money? Write down everything you spend. Concerned about time, write down everything you do). When we do these for an extended period, it's amazing what jumps out at us. We may have suspected it, we may have considered it abstractly, but the act of writing it down makes it incontrovertible. You really see how long it takes to do things, and what you have to do to make things work.
The challenge for me is that the pressure (as you imply Thomas) is probably mostly internal; though the consequences of those actions and that internal pressure to be all things at all times can have a negative effect in important places (managers wondering if you are distracted, spouses and kids not wanting to get in the way because "Dad is busy doing so many things"). My kids are only going to be with me a few short years going forward; I don't want them living their teenage years thinking their dad is a hair-trigger jerk. So yes, a re-prioritization is in order. As I said, now I just have to figure out what, and how, to bring it off. Stay tuned for more on that front :).
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