Dean Clough

March 13, 2021

Portico Darwin: Don’t Work So Much

As I embark in a few moments on the 3rd (here's the first and the second) of about a zillion wacky things I'm doing this year, I find myself feeling a massive amount of gratitude for being able to retire or at least semi-retire.  I'd like to express that gratitude, but in a different way.   I think the topic of this blog is important, and it's not my normal smarmy crap (oh, OK, some of it is).

Indeed, I'd like to get serious for even more than 10 seconds and do a call-out to each and every one of you that is working too hard and too often, or is close to someone who is.  I've spoken in the past to a bunch of you on this topic, including 1/2 of the Jax Deuce, Louise, Andy Jones, Dr. Shelly Murphy, Laura Gonzalez, Ol’ Purple Label, Professor Howard Blum Esq., and others. 

This particular blog is about how the working world is starting to acknowledge the financial damage of burnout, and talking about what to do about it. 

Some background.  In my last hurrah, I took over a team consisting of 25 engineers and CAD specialists.  The vibe when I became the leader was simple:  bad and burned out.   The previous leader was an awful manager, yet the team itself was mostly awesome or at least very good (like many work environments).

I prepared hard for assuming the leadership of this group - after 17 years in the wilderness, this was my break.   And a part of that was reading a powerful book: "It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy at Work", by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.   I bet I've sent 10 copies of this book to friends, including some on the list above - it was that impactful.

I took their brilliant insights and here's a summary of what we developed and implemented:

  • 50 hour work weeks max, but with much fewer distractions
  • No/drastically less Slack, etc. (file under "lessening distractions")
  • Much shorter and radically more efficient meetings (often discussed, rarely done)
  • Zero or close to zero "all-hands" meetings (OMFG the expense of gathering 25 people for an hour or two!)
  • A Single Source of Truth for Who's Doing What When

I can hear the naysayers: "Oh, Portico Darwin, you can't possibly understand the specifics of MY role and why I MUST work so hard!"  OK, no doubt I don't have direct insight into every job.  Duh. 

But I do know what we did worked, big-time, for 25 people, across 4 locations around the world, whilst working on projects of extreme complexity.   And in fact, what we did is now being used across the organization.  This was in 2019.

I am now seeing some other respectable thinkers weigh-in, with a similar tone.  Ezra Klein, one of my favorite thought leaders, recently devoted a full show to the subject, and interviewed the thoughtful Cal Newport, author of the current book "A World Without Email".

And just in the past week, this from one of my favorite magazines, The Atlantic.  I've personally found it to be true that Only Your Boss Can Cure Your Burnout, but this article is much more:  it includes the impact of the virus on work and life.

I hope each of you that is on the treadmill will consider this blog, and the materials to which I've linked.  Many things seem impossible until you actually try, and then have the will to see it through.

I've got to give another shout-out to fellow Albany PTSD victim Steve Simon, for his timely education on what ethnicities are likely to use "Steven" vs. "Stephen".  When I said he was a famous intellectual, I wasn't kidding. 

Too easy.  I refer to this gentleman, a former La Honda resident and fellow HO scale model railroader, as "The King".  I give you the singular Neil Young (& Crazy Horse), and their towering "Live Rust".  But it’s not better to burn out . . .

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