I learned something interesting this past week – I’m not very good at understanding when I need to take some rest. In fact, I’m not very good at understanding the “rhythm” of life that reminds you when it’s time to rest. The good news is that it’s fixable.
Paula (my wife), Gus (our 10-year-old son), and I flew down to Austin to visit Paula’s sisters and our nephews. I had the somewhat deluded idea that I would work much of the time I was there. I actually did at the beginning of the trip (hey, it got me out of painting), but it became impractical as the week wore on.
I noticed a couple of interesting things on my trip. First, I was quite touched by the fact that some very successful friends of mine – people I really look up to – took time out to meet with me. That just made me feel good. But it also made me think … if these guys are even busier than I am (one just added his 50th employee), how could they make time for a visit with me and even seem relaxed and engaged? I suspect they have a better sense of rhythm and priorities than I do.
The second thing I noticed was that after about 3 or 4 nights, I felt really rested, even though I was crashing on a couch and being serenaded in the middle of the night by screaming babies. What was going on?
An analogy popped into my head. Imagine you dropped to the floor and did as many pushups as you can do. Let’s say it’s 20. If you tried again a few minutes later, you could do maybe 1 or 2 more. A few minutes later would be the same. But if you waited until the next day, you could do 20 again. The next day 20 again. A few days later, you’d be able to do 21, then 22, etc. But if you only ever waited a few minutes, you’re never really going to be able to do many more pushups. Just 1 or 2.
I do that a lot with work. I worry a LOT about things I have to do, and then I try to push myself to do more before I’ve really recuperated – and then I flounder. I didn’t use to have this problem as a programmer – I just fell into a rhythm naturally. But now that I’m doing more thinking/analyzing/influencing kinds of activities, I’m much less aware of a natural rhythm.
Noticing that, I think it’s going to be pretty easy to change, because I have several different types of activities that need to be done on a regular basis: communicating with customers, researching, creating architecture documents, selling/marketing, project managing, etc. Those are different activities that require different kinds of energy, kind of like doing pushups, then sit-ups, then cardio, etc. I need to figure out how much of each kind of activity I can do in a day, and then develop a more deliberate “cross-training” pattern that optimizes my time and energy. I’ve been beating myself up about some activities when I’d be better off simply calling it a day on those and moving on to a new activity.
These are somewhat philosophical thoughts that were driven home by the passing of my friend Allen Stern, founder of CloudContacts. I met Allen when I interviewed him for my podcast and then became a customer of his. Over the last couple of months, we had been exploring a business opportunity together. I grew very fond of him and impressed with his kindness and generosity. We were planning to meet when I got to Austin, but he didn’t reply back to my emails and calls while I was there. Fearing the worst, I eventually did an Internet search and discovered that he passed away.
I don’t know how Allen died, but I know he had health issues. Still, his death felt sudden to me, and I really regret not being able to meet with him in person (and run together). He was a good, good man.
Allen’s death reminded me that life’s too short for bullshitting about anything, especially work. Just do what you gotta do, do it well, do it generously … then drop it and enjoy spending time with people you love. When I do that, I seem to wake up more rested and happier, so I’m going to try to get into a better rhythm and live like that every day.
Thanks for your kindness and inspiration, Allen. You will be missed.