The big project at work wrapped last Wednesday. I was essentially lead project manager on it, directing a gaggle of engineers and managing expectations with executives. It was a lot of work on a “you’ve got to be kidding me” deadline. Planning and executing it consumed me, especially in the last week or so as things heated up. But we delivered it just a few days past the deadline (on a project like this, that’s considered successful) and everything worked.
I was spent by the time it ended, so I took Thursday and Friday off. I thought I’d sleep late, make some photographs, write a little in this blog, and putter around the house. It was going to be five luxurious days of restorative downtime, and I was so ready.
Instead on Thursday I found myself power washing the deck so we could stain it. I guess I didn’t know that this project, which my wife and I had been talking about, was going to be this weekend.
On Friday I ran a frustrating and unsuccessful errand for my wife’s upcoming birthday that ate up my morning. But in the afternoon I developed and scanned some film, and I aired up my bike’s tires and went for the first ride of the season. That was great.
I couldn’t sleep late. In the last few weeks of the project, enough tension and stress built up that I struggled to let go and sleep. I managed five or six hours most nights, always interrupted by up to an hour and a half awake somewhere in the middle. I thought when the project ended I’d sleep deeply for a couple nights and be back on track, but instead my messed-up sleep pattern continued. I couldn’t shed the accumulated stress.
Saturday I crashed, and hard. I felt terrible all day. I managed the weekly grocery shopping and my laundry, but I was extremely irritable and my body ached all over. I needed to stop. My wife was staining the deck, and I know she hoped I’d join her, but I told her I couldn’t. I spent the rest of the day in bed reading a book. I dozed off a few times. That night I finally managed about seven hours of sleep.
Feeling partially restored, on Sunday I worked my ass off staining that deck. By the end of the day we had two coats on the railing and one on the deck surface. We also discovered that the structure under the steps up to the deck was rotting. Our son dismantled it and will rebuild it for us today. It’s nice to have someone with those skills in the family.
I thought a day of honest physical labor might do me some good and let me sleep deeply. Nope. Last night, once again, crap sleep.
I’m deeply tired, and I’m a little depressed. I think I’ll take tomorrow off, too, a day just for me. I need to press my inner reset button and this weekend really hasn’t done it for me yet. Everybody else will be back at work so I will be alone. I love being alone.
I forget that the pandemic itself is stressful. We’ve all had to adapt to a lot of change in a short time, and that’s never easy. The big work project was a great distraction. It started before the lockdown, so from the first day of working from home I could throw myself fully into it all day. Then all evening I could focus on my family. I seldom went out among people — Saturday morning to the grocery store, and usually once a week to pick up carryout, but that was it. I sometimes read the news so I’d have some idea about the pandemic’s progress. Otherwise, I could shut it out.
I also forgot that the pandemic is stressful for my entire family. Our children who no longer live with us have their own troubles but I’ll focus on the three that still live with us. All of them spent several weeks unemployed. I’ve said before that they were okay because we were able to provide them a roof and food. But they were also stuck here at home with no in-person contact with any of their friends. I’m good with being at home for long stretches. So is one of our sons. We’re both people with considerable inner worlds and we’re thrilled to live in them.
But our other son and our daughter are not built for this and it was very hard on them. That son, we learned, was sneaking out to spend time with his girlfriend, exposing us all to risk. I was furious at first. But after a long conversation with my wife I was able to see what isolation was doing to our son and daughter. I was no longer sure what was right. I’m still not.
Since Indiana started reopening, all three of these adult children spend some time with friends now. I’m a little frightened of it. Margaret and I are in the age group that has had the most cases of COVID-19 in Indiana. I do not want this disease. I also know that I fall on the very conservative side of reasonable responses to the virus. Other reasonable responses include some social contact.
I empathize with our children, who need that social contact. I’m conflicted about whether to draw a line, or allow this. I just don’t know what’s right. So I’m doing nothing, which tacitly allows this, and I just feel stuck.
I expect things to be more normal at work when I return. Stressful, tight-timeline projects like this one are not typical. We normally work in two-week chunks, or sprints, as we call them. Most software companies want some ability to predict when projects will finish. This system of sprints gives us good enough predictability with a lot less pressure. Engineers feel like they have the time to do good work. I like that.
It’s also a lot less stressful for me. In traditional project management, like I just finished doing, I’m sort of the captain of the ship directing everything that’s happening from my chair on the bridge. In our system of sprints, we set up two weeks of work and I then trust the teams to deliver it. They mostly do. I coach the engineers along the way and when they get stuck help them through it. It’s real work, but a lot less pressure.
That pressure was part of what allowed me to be distracted from everything else. I’m going to have to face it now. I don’t know what that means yet. I’m going to find out this week.