On Passion and Sustainable Pace

You love your work. You love your family. It’s a difficult balancing act: which is winning at your house, these days?

Perhaps, right now, the fulcrum on this precarious teeter-totter is set for more teetering than tottering. How to move the fulcrum? Readjusting work-life balance, while desirable, may seem impossible given the projects we are embroiled in right now. How do we get into this situation? How do we get out?

I work in the world of software development, and in the traditional way of working here, so many things were out of my control. In my days as a developer, I had no influence on our delivery dates or scope, and these externally imposed controls threatened either the completion or the integrity of my work. Here’s where my personal life came in: this job paid my mortgage. The people were nice, it was close to my house. I wanted that job.

The company’s success, we were told, was dependent on our own success in meeting delivery deadlines. Given the choice, many of us chose to borrow time from our personal lives to allow creation of quality work products within the given timeframes.

Hmmm: “borrow time from our personal lives”? Eventually this strategy reveals its true face: co-workers now expect this level of committment from us and we realise that we will never get that time back. The desire for sustainability now provokes a different dilemma: disappoint our co-workers or our friends and family? When we are passionate about both our teams and our home life this dichotomy adds further pressure to the long days we are heroically accomplishing. Over time, morale can erode, and despite our passion the quality of our collective work can suffer. Analogous situations emerge in other work roles: architect, manager, [your job role here]. The details may differ but the end result looks similar: stress, discouragement, sub-optimal performance.

Agile Work is an approach that offers hope to rectify this imbalance by realigning the accountabilities and responsabilities of project participants. But we tend to carry our old ways of thinking into these new ways of working. Agile practices alone are not the answer – the realignment must reach deep into our own beliefs about work. Achieving this is is one aim of the Agile practice of periodic Reflection, or Retrospective. Some of you have a head start on this: a few Agile coaches discussed this important topic in the context of their own roles recently, at the Boulder Scrum Gathering.

I’ll write more about this topic in January. In the meantime, I invite you to reflect on your work-life teeter-totter… how’s it doing? What do you really want, I mean really? Many of us are away from our offices this week: a good opportunity to remember who we are and what makes us happy. Leaving behind “ought” and “must”: can you imagine a life in which work and home do not compete, but complement each other? Imagining it can help you discover the next change you want to make – and it may not be the biggest or most obvious!

Hold on to your passion – it’s part of who you are. And savour your time with family and friends – it will help you channel that passion in healthy ways, to adjust your balance. Sustainability can rekindle your creativity and bring back a joy you thought was lost.

I wish, for you and those you love, a restful and healing time as you prepare for an exciting new year, in which you can “work smarter, not longer.”


Further reading:

Book Review: Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, book by Tom DeMarco

Book: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed., by Tom DeMarco

Book: The Responsibility Virus: How Control Freaks, Shrinking Violets-And the Rest of Us-Can Harness the Power of True Partnership, by Roger L. Martin

Discussion notes: Sustainable pace for coaches, mentors and change agents

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