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[twenty twenty-four day thirty-nine]: space cadet crashes to earth

centaur 0

When you’ve got a lot to do, sometimes it’s tempting to just “power through it” – for example, by extending a meeting time until all the agenda items are handled. But this is just another instance of what’s called “hero programming” in the software world, and while sometimes it’s necessary (say, the day of a launch) it isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy, and will incur debts that you can’t easily repay.

Case in point, for the Neurodiversiverse Anthology, my coeditor and I burned up our normally scheduled meeting discussing, um, scheduling with the broader Thinking Ink team, so we added a spot meeting to catch up. We finalized the author and artist contracts, we developed guidance for the acceptance and rejection letters, and did a whole bunch of other things. It felt very productive.

But, all in all, a one hour meeting became three and a half, and I ended up missing two scheduled meetings because of that. The meetings hadn’t yet landed on the calendar – one because we were still discussing it via email, and the other because it was a standing meeting out of my control. But because our three and a half hour meeting extended over the time we were supposed to follow up and set the actual meeting time, we never set that time, and when I was playing catch up later that evening, I literally spaced on what day of the week it was, and didn’t notice the other meeting had started until it was over.

All that’s on me, of course – it’s important to put stuff on the calendar as soon as possible, including standing meetings, even if the invite is only for you, and I have no-one else to blame for that broken link in the chain. And both I and my co-editor agreed to (and wanted to) keep “powering through it” so we didn’t have to schedule a Saturday meeting. But, I wonder: did my co-editor also have cascading side effects due to this longer meeting? How was her schedule impacted by this?

Overall, this is an anthology, and book publishing has long and unexpectedly complex and tight schedules: if we don’t push to get the editing done ASAP, we’ll miss our August publishing window. But it’s worth remembering that we need to be kind to ourselves and realistic about our capabilities, or we’ll burn out and still miss our window.

That happened to me once in grad school – on what I recall was my first trip to the Bay Area, in fact. I hadn’t gotten as much done on my previous internship, and started trying to “power through it” to get a lot done from the very first week, putting in super long hours. I started to burn out the very first weekend – I couldn’t keep the pace. Nevertheless, I kept trying to push, and even took on new projects, like the first draft of the proposal for the Personal Pet (PEPE) robotic assistant project.

In one sense, that all worked out: my internship turned into a love of the Bay Area, where I lived for ~16 years of my life; the PEPE project led to another internship in Japan, to co-founding Enkia, to a job at Google, and ultimately to my new career in robotics.

But, in another sense, it didn’t: I got RSI from a combination of typing every day for work, typing every night for the proposal, and blowing off steam from playing video games when done. I couldn’t type for almost nine months, during the writing of my PhD thesis, which I could not stop at, and had to learn to write with my left hand. I was VERY lucky: I know some other people in grad school with permanent wrist damage.

“Powering through it” isn’t sustainable, and while it can lead to short-term gains and open long-term doors, can lead to short-term gaffes and long-term (or even permanent) injuries. That’s why it’s super important to figure out how to succeed at what you’re doing by working at a sustainable pace, so you can conserve your “powering through it” resources for the times when you’re really in the clinch.

Because if you don’t save your resources for when you need them, you can burn yourself out along the way, and still fail despite your hard work – perhaps walking away with a disability as a consolation prize.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Powering through taking a photograph doesn’t work that well, does it?

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