IT Burnout – The Task List

Sadly, this picture above is me. I used to think I had one of the best memories in the world. It turns out my memory is well-suited for bar trivia and routing protocol esoterics. My memory doesn’t appear so adept at remembering other little things that are of more important, such as remembering to buy a gift for a birthday or following up on an email that I sent last week.

Human brains are great at processing information. But some of the ones that are best at processing it are horrible at recalling it. I think of it not unlike a three-tiered storage array. The fast access tasks are in the fastest storage tier where they are needed. The longer term but less important info goes into the near-line tier where it can be recalled when needed. And in my case, the bandwidth to that tier is slow and unreliable.

Exciting Things!

One of my solutions to this problem is getting better with task management. As bad as my memory is, it’s also not well suited to writing things down to remember them. The irony is almost too delicious to ignore. I need to write things down so I don’t forget them, but I forget to write them down. I’ve been studying more and more processes like Getting Things Done or Zen To Done to help me change the way I store and process information.

I’ve really been trying to use Things as my go-to task manager. Everyone has their favorites and the best task manager is the one you use on a regular basis. I’m trying to get better about using it to collect my thoughts so I can focus on things like writing posts and answering emails without dedicating time and mental bandwidth to actually remembering to do those things.

It’s handy to have a task manager on every device I use. I can drop tasks where I need them and when I need them. The ability to transfer notes and other writings to my devices and have it all sync automatically is wonderful. But it’s also a curse in disguise.

Too Many Things!

The curse of trying to capture all the information you want to remember is that you have to then process the things you remember for yourself. And trying to do that has made me realized I have a lot of things I want to try and keep going all at once. And even just seeing all the daily things I want to try and keep track of is reminding me that I have lots of juggling that I do frequently.

This idea of seeing all the things I have to do on a regular basis could easily lead to IT burnout in your job. I’ve felt it before in my engineering role when I looked at all the jobs on the board that needed to be done and realized I didn’t have enough hours in the day to finish them all on the schedule that they needed to be done.

It does feel good to see all the tasks that I’ve checked off the list as I get things accomplished, but I also know that I feel a sense of dread when I set a future date for an email or a contact to follow up on. The idea of putting it “out of sight, out of mind” lets me feel better about what I currently see. However, knowing there are things just waiting out there that need to be done another time or that things are getting carried over from day-to-day is enough to give pause.

More and more, I’m finding that the key that I need to adhere to is to work the tasks as they come up and find ways to get things accomplished instead of putting them off. Task management is great because it allows you to prioritize. But it also means it’s easy to delay and reschedule too. You have to find a way to make the things you do important enough so that getting them accomplished lets you clear your plate.

If you keep rescheduling and reassigning tasks, you’re going to get buried. If you can’t keep your plate clear it’s going to fill up before you know it. You have to find the big rocks and deal with them so you’re free to deal with the little ones.

Tom’s Take

No system is perfect. Everything can be refined given time. But you also have to figure out how best to work within your own limitations. For me, that’s realizing that I can’t start forgetting to write things down. It’s also realizing that I need to focus on the important stuff on my list and keep checking things off so I don’t get overwhelmed. Time is the ally of burnout. Given enough time anyone can end up burned out from overwork or from too much to accomplish. They key is to keep working through your list and don’t let things pile up on you.