Mental Health Days

Mental Health Days
May 29, 2012 Derek Fournier

It happens to everyone – you go from excited to the point of annoyance about what you are doing to watching re-runs of Saved by the Bell and hoping it’s the one where Jessie is taking caffeine pills.  Even when you love what you do, there will be days that you don’t want to do it.

Life is the best source for content. As I continue along the road to try to make some lasting impact in the world, I continue to learn powerful lessons. Although some close to me may claim that I think I am a “know it all” I am actually pretty well in tune with the fact that despite a pretty diverse set of experience, the amount of shit I don’t know far exceeds my collected knowledge and wisdom.  I have always tried to surround myself with interesting people. A line I use often is that I always seek to be the dumbest person in the room, but that statement is really about more than intellect. Varied perspectives are invaluable. I say that to point out a recent conversation that I had with a close friend.

I had completed a number of blogs on time and was really sort of feeling my oats on the whole writing thing. I completed my article while away on my guy’s trip and things seemed to be on cruise control. Work was going well and I was really loving the process of writing and sharing with you readers (or the catharsis of speaking into a vacuum, as it sometimes feels, and that’s okay too).

Then it happened.

I missed a week.

I caught up and blew it off but I knew I missed it.

Then I missed another.

And another.

Each time I would rebound and get the content written, but my goal, the plan we had was not being met. That goal is a job. It is a part of what I do. More importantly than that, it is a job that impacts more than just myself as I have a peer who edits my writing and makes a schedule based on the deadlines that we set jointly. I was implicitly telling her that her time was not as important as mine, which is something that really pisses me off (not the upsetting Keri part, though that sucks too, but the implicit idiocy. I would always prefer to be explicit about things.)

So after reviewing my blog from last week, Keri did exactly what I needed. She read me the riot act. She was friendlier than most and she didn’t have an answer (though she proffered a few) but she made it clear that this change sucked, was not our agreed plan and that we needed to fix the situation.

When I received her email I was forced to evaluate why I had fallen behind. That was where the long term value in the interaction came in (aside from not pissing off my peer and friend, who has managed to make me look far more articulate than I am since she has been engaged in the editorial process). How had I gone from interrupting golf, drinking and exaggerated stories of conquests new and old with my friends in Texas to write a blog post to missing essentially three in a row? Work was good. My clients are doing well and I get to work with really cool technology. I have a new son on the way and have begun working out and getting healthier. While I am busy, I certainly had no new stress to chalk this up to that was plausible.

It was at this moment that I realized my analytical side was essentially being a pain in my ass. Back in the old days in Redmond we had the concept of a Mental Health Day. I am not sure whether this was ever official or sanctioned nor do I care because it should have been. Sometimes you need a ‘sick day’ when you are not sick. Go see a movie. Go fishing. Hell, go make some pottery. Do something to get your head out of what your head is always in and for the love of god, interrupt your schedule with something new. (Editor’s note: you may pick the religious figure of your choice.)

What I think I realized is that though I take mental health breaks from time to time, I have added a number of new scheduled activities to my life lately.

I HATE SCHEDULES!

I know they are necessary and I cherish the way they help me accomplish tasks, but I do not like a Julie-the-Cruise-Director approach to the majority of my time. Add to that the reduction in non-scheduled ‘free thought moments,’ and I think I found my recipe for motivation reduction.

So what is the takeaway here? I think the point is that you have to realize that you are not always going to be whistling Dixie (I hate that expression!).  Not every day is going to be perfect and you are not always going to feel like the master of your own destiny. Now, while I recommend that you should most often try to fight your way through issues like those, do not be afraid to take a break and clear your head. Evaluate why you are feeling the lack of motivation and what you can do to get back on track. Leverage tools like delegation and tactical outsourcing to get things off your plate that bother you (and we will talk about ways to do that with bartering in a subsequent blog) and allow you to focus on the things that you love (and are probably good at!). If you leave with anything besides a bitchin’ Saved By The Bell clip, remember this: taking a break is not a sign of weakness as long as the end result leaves you refocused and ready to tackle your to-do list. We throw around terms like “workaholic” and brag about burning the candle at both ends, but realistically, this behavior can cause more damage in the long run if it sucks you dry of motivation.

As I evaluate this situation I also think to a conversation I had with a friend the other day that used to report to me at a previous company. The next blog will be related to that and our creation of the “Bitch Slap Button” and why we think that it may be the most important invention of this decade (mild hyperbole).

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