The need for slack

Maybe this is it:

I work myself hard. I pace myself, yes, because I understand that nothing can run at 100% indefinitely. Maximal sustained output is not the same thing as maximal output. But I’ve got a pretty good sense of the maximal sustained output I can produce, and try to stay there.

So I schedule my life – and my work – in that fashion. At work, I take on responsibilities that I can handle – given my already existant load. I ensure that I leave enough space to avoid overtaxing myself or my systems, and that I’ll avoid burnout.

For example, there’s a distinct contrast between yesterday and today for me. Yesterday, I did fewer cases but was constantly stressed. Additional tasks kept piling up… well, no. They were handed to me with the presumption that I wasn’t working hard enough. In the end, I ended up doing as many cases as two other workers… but I had one special case that took four times as long as the rest of them. Today, I’m *outperforming* two other workers in numbers of cases – along with another long-lasting case – but with no real stress at all. What’s different?

Simply put: I am being *left alone*. The tasks are defined (take care of these cases within this time frame) and I can just get to it. I am able to schedule things appropriately for my abilities – and did so.

In a very limited sense, there’s a solution to my frustration of yesterday. “Plan time for the unexpected”, right? This works… but to an extent. First, there’s the differing nature of types of work. Writing this blog post is something that can be done concurrently with a lot of other tasks. I can walk away from this to respond to someone’s needs (I just did that, did you notice?). But that doesn’t work if you’ve got to try to work with two cases at once. And the unexpected work is unpredictable in nature.

Aside from the unpredictability, that also implies the creation of actual “down time”. I don’t mean the time where you’re “recharging”, but time that isn’t needed to relax and maintain a good pace. Time where you’re simply not doing anything. To say it technocratically, sustained output won’t be maximized, and it’ll be obvious.

Which – you guessed it – leads to more unexpected tasks being piled onto oneself. Since you have so much free time, and all.

Ultimately, this is a management issue. One either trusts your workers to perform – or not. If they consistently don’t fulfill thier obligations, a tough conversation needs to ensue. Maybe they need to scale back on thier activities and responsibilities. Perhaps a lateral transfer is needed. Maybe they need disciplinary action.

I’ve seen all of the above happen – because trust can be manipulated and abused. Trusting others allows hurt to occur, and inevitably, it *will* occur.

Workers then have to ensure that we recognize that past abuse, and point out the ways in which we aren’t like the abusers. For example, yesterday I kept pace with the others. When I make principled disagreements (at least, in *my* view they’re principled disagreements) I try to point out that I’ll still do the task if required to. That is, I point out that I’m not just complaining about *doing* work, that I’m instead complaining about the way the work is being done.

Maybe this isn’t solvable. There’s a lot of our societal patterns that ensure that therapists will be a high-demand profession. It’s just frustrating. There are enough obstacles and difficulties in this world that we simply don’t have to *make* any more.

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