On Success & Failure
As my experience comes to a close, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on a couple of highs and lows of my experience, and what (if anything) I can take away from them.
The 100-hour week
The “too long;didn’t read” version of my story is that I was asked by my boss to step up and deliver a piece of work that I knew would require a heroic effort on my part. I weighed up the pros and cons (particularly the working hours) and decided I would go for it.
Since then, I’ve been getting up at 4am , setting off at 4:45am on my hour-long drive to work, and leaving the office on average at 8:30pm. This results in a 14.5 hour working day, plus 2 hours commuting…a gruelling day I hope you’ll agree.
On the whole, my involvement in this process has been viewed as a success. Top of the highlights for me has been the feedback: getting the odd “I think you’re doing a fantastic job” from a team member was a real tonic for my tired spirit. The majority of the feedback came from the team I stepped in to lead, but I had a light sprinkling of top-down feedback too, with one particular item of praise from much further up the hierarchy that was personally very pleasing to hear.
Other higlights are more tacit, more difficult to measure. They include the personal feeling on my part that I’ve proven myself capable of picking up a complex task with many moving parts, late in its lifecycle, and getting to grips with it sufficiently quickly to lead it down a successful path. I’ve made difficult decisions along the way and I’ve establised strong relationships with key stakeholders (some of whom weren’t very bought into the project when I started) in a short period of time.
I haven’t yet sought specific feedback on this aspect – the project isn’t quite over the line yet – but the fact that I was asked to extend my tenure until the project completed, when originally I was due to hand it back beforehand – gives me confidence that my personal feelings aren’t unfounded.
As you might expect, this has been a physically demanding experience. I’m permanently tired, I’ve hardly seen my kids and I’m basically living on coffee and Red Bull.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, towards the tail end of this experience I’ve had a small number of occasions where I didn’t get the outcomes I wanted. Some of this has been in the form of frustrations with decisions others have made, and my inability to influence them otherwise, some of it has been in my failure to anticipate a particular problem coming to light.
The item that has pressed most heavily on me though is a very recent task where my usual political savvy (yes, there are office politics in all this…aren’t there always?) failed me and I allowed myself to be coaxed by a senior manager into producing some “hypothetical” budget reduction numbers for a local brainstorming session that quickly became the “baselined” position that was presented to a much senior audience than I’d expected.
If that weren’t bad enough, it quickly transpired that the numbers – which I’d pulled together at the tail end of a particularly long day – past 10pm if I recall – weren’t entirely sound and it didn’t take long in a session with my boss for them to start to unravel.
All this left a bitter taste in my mouth, as I felt at the time that it tainted all the previous good work I’d done. In reality, I suspect the gravity of the situation was much magnified in my own, fatigue-addled brain, than in those of my stakeholders…but it still required some uncomfortable briefings with my boss to enable him to step in and repair the situation.
I’m going to post a “blow-by-blow” breakdown of my experience soon, as I think I’ve made some useful observations about how a stint like this affects a person physically, psychologically and in terms of their productivity. But at macro-level, when I look back at this experience and wonder how I could have avoided the “lows”, it seems to me that the simple truth of it is that I needed to protect myself more, both in terms of trying to meet every demand, even when it required me to work a 20-hour day, and in terms of ensuring that my boss was aware of what I was being asked to do by his counterparts in other areas of the business
As I write this, in the office on a Sunday morning, I’m optimistic that this will be the last of the “out of hours” shifts I’ll need to work. My contribution to this project is now reducing, save the residual interactions to check that everything has gone to plan as it completes.
My next challenge is one of recovery; I need to catch up on some sleep, get back into my fitness regimen and repair the disaster zone that I used to call my inbox.
The price for this effort won’t be fully paid until I’m back to my old self – physically, psychologically and professionally. That repair job is going to take a few more weeks to complete.