when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel

I’m working with some great people right now that are some of the hardest working people I know. Super responsible. Striving for excellence in every area. Kicking butt and taking names.

Unfortunately, they are all overworked. System upgrades, routine maintenance, volunteer recruiting, set changes…the list could go on forever. And it tends to. There is no end in sight.

Most every tech person I’ve ever met, looks at this pile of work and sucks it up and keeps moving forward. That is, until they crash and burn. I think it is probably pretty universal, that when you can see light at the end of the tunnel, most of us can push through to get something done. The difficult part is when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe worse still, the tunnel has no end. And maybe even worse, you’re surrounded by people who keep telling you it will let up any moment.

So what do you do in this situation?

Let yourself off the hook.

For me, I have to be really honest with myself and realize that I can’t do everything. Over the years, I’ve had to sit down and figure out what I can reasonably accomplish in the time I have. After that, I need to let it go.

Easy, right.

Communicate what can be accomplished.

Once I’ve figured out what I can accomplish in a normal week, I need to tell my boss. Most people have no idea how you spend your time. Educate them. Give them a glimpse of how you spend each hour of your week. Help them see how insane it can be.

Plan for light at the end of the tunnel.

Figure out when the crazy times will be. Work yourself up to them. For the non-crazy times, make sure you create space to catch your breath. If you don’t figure it out, nobody else will. With your bosses help, don’t let events get planned on certain days during that time. Make sure there isn’t a women’s conference piled on top of a men’s conference, on top of a children’s conference, on top of a…you get the idea.

This type of planning can’t happen in a vacuum. You must have your leadership on board with this idea. And you can’t have your leadership on board until you’ve figured out what you can accomplish and you’ve talked to them on a regular basis about the realities of how much it takes to get work done.

Life is a series of tunnels, not one long tunnel.

If you are a leader of people, it is important to not just keep your people in the tunnel all the time. They need to see day light. To get the most from your people, they need space to think and dream. They need to not always be reacting. They even need a say in which tunnel we are going to dig and which ones we are going to stay out of.

To get the most from your teams, they can’t just stay underground forever. They need breaks. Sure, they need to work hard too. But if all they ever do is work hard, eventually, they will get worn out and that will be the end. They will force the end of the tunnel.

I want to be a part of a team and a part of a work environment where we work hard, but then can have light at the end of the tunnel from time to time. Working really hard with no let up in the future.

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