What gets done is what gets done, an entirely excellent piece about stopping working and logging off in order to work better and more effectively by @stef, turned up on Twitter today in a very timely fashion for me.
Suddenly, doing the occasional late night turns into a regular thing. You have meetings where you’re estimating how long something will take to do, and because last meeting you managed a certain amount of work, you commit to that next time. But the problem is that last time you had to pull a few late nights and now you’re writing that into your plan for the next piece of work. It’s a slippery slope.
Essentially, by doing lots of out-of-hours work you’re over-estimating the amount of work that can get done, and building potential team burnout into your plan.
At the moment, work is busy – very busy – because the Guardian in Australia is effectively a small startup, even though it exists within a much bigger corporation. It’s a small newsroom with a lot to cover, and after two months we’re still settling into our stride and learning what works and what doesn’t. When you don’t yet know what’s important – or you do, but you also have to do other mundane things to keep things running – it’s hard to prioritise time. And when – like me – you have a job which is fractal in nature, it’s very easy to end up working constantly, all of the time.
Fractal jobs are those where every task contains within it a multitude of smaller tasks. They’re jobs that multiply the more attention you put into them, where doing one big thing is fine but there are also three smaller things you could do to make it better, and each of those also could be improved if you did five other tiny things. My job incorporates SEO, social media monitoring and interaction, data analysis, community engagement: all areas that expand to fill all available space, if you let them. There’s always something else to do.
There’s a real skill involved in knowing when to stop tweaking, how much time to spend on the big things and how much to get invested in the smaller elements. And, being only two months in, I’m still learning where those lines are, and which things aren’t yet worth the investment of time for the returns they give. It’s also crucial to carve out time for experimentation and exploration, both of which become tricky when you’re paddling to stay afloat. It’s tempting to set that time aside at weekends, in space that’s not meant for work time. But that time’s not for work, and I’m increasingly certain that the more space I get to recover, the better I am at actually getting the useful things done.
On that note: it’s Friday. Time for some time off.