Decision fatigue, being needed, and me
July 7, 2022 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm a single person in my 30s and I manage several people at my job. Between my work and having to manage everything in my personal life on my own, I'm mentally exhausted. How do I deal?

I recently got a promotion at work and now am the project manager for a large technical project, as well as the line manager of eight people. In addition, I'm still the lead for my previous focus area, though I've taken a step back there because of my new role. Between my direct reports, my current project, and the other focus area, I spend my day in a constant barrage of Slack pings, emails, and meetings where everyone needs my help and/or needs me to make a decision about something.

I'm also a single person who has a mortgage, three dogs, a disabled parent, and all that comes along with those things, so once I'm done with work, I have to make all of those basic life decisions and deal with all of those needs.

Between my personal and professional lives, I'm feeling mentally exhausted. I haven't had a partner in years and don't really want one, but some days I'm desperate for someone to ask to go get groceries or feed the dogs or do the laundry. I feel "bothered" all the time, even though I know people don't have ill intention. I feel like every day I have a limit for how many times I can be "needed" or asked to make a decision and once I hit that limit, I just want to crawl in a hole and ignore everyone. I find myself signing off of work and feeling incapable of doing anything because all of my brain power is gone.

I went on vacation to a cabin in the woods last week and it was blissful because I was alone and no one was asking me for anything. Obviously I can't replicate that in my day-to-day life, so what are your tips and tricks for dealing with these feelings and not getting completely worn out?
posted by anotheraccount to Human Relations (17 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How much money do you have to throw at this problem? It doesn't sound like you have the time or energy to deal with this.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:15 AM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

Sounds stressful! Three suggestions.
1. Ask for a raise if you weren't appropriately compensated when given extra responsibilities at work. Use some of the extra money to make your life easier- meal kit delivery service, housecleaner, hiring someone for dog walking, eldercare etc.
2. How much vacation/leave do you get each year? As an American who worked in Australia my mind was blown when I discovered that everyone takes 4 weeks vacation every year, plus holidays, plus literally every single allocated sick day. Now I'm back in the US I get less leave but I use all of it every year. That restful, amazing vacation? Do that twice a year plus a bunch of other long wekends/shorter breaks.
3. Schedule yourself veg out/downtime on a regular basis- at least one weekend morning i lay in bed and drink coffee and read for a couple of hours. Also I do like to watch TV in the evening to wind down.

You sound like you are good at and valued at your job. This puts you in a place where you can advocate for your needs- be it additional resources, a restructure to reduce your number of direct reports, more admin support, or maybe more money or more vacation time. No one wants to lose a valuable employee due to burnout.
posted by emd3737 at 8:21 AM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

How experienced are you with managing? It's a huge change for sure. Be aware of the monkeys on your back.

If you can, sneak out now and then and do something for you - an hour at a gallery, a movie, something that takes your mind completely off things. Taking this from work (if your work culture allows it) is good because it doesn't cut into your personal time and is a way to balance the fact that you probably are thinking about work at home a lot. I used to do this maybe about once a month and it helped. I called it 'chiropractic' on my calendar. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:29 AM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Automate! Auto-pay your bills and contributions to investments. Subscribe to Amazon prime if you need to repurchase things on a regular basis.

As for throwing money at the problem - get groceries delivered.

To ward off decision fatigue, on what to wear - build a capsule wardrobe. For meal prepping - make a double batch, so the next day can be leftovers.

For managing people - ask your direct reports save their questions for their 1 on 1 and not ping you.
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:29 AM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Some things that have helped me:

* Automating bill pay. All I have to do is keep a vague sense of my checking-account balance (and even then, I have overdraft protection, so a screwup would be annoying but not a crisis).

* Delivery, delivery, delivery. Groceries, hardware, cases of cat food, gigantic bags of cat litter, other stuff. Going out to shop can go to hell, for the most part. Weirdly, this often saves me money over doing the shopping myself -- I'd have to get a Zipcar, and delivery's cheaper even with tip.

* Local meal-prep service. I don't use it any more, but it was honestly the best when lockdown torched my executive function.

* On some things, world-won't-end-if. World won't end if I don't dust the mantelpiece for a while, for example. (World will end if I don't feed cats, as cats do not hesitate to inform me, so that becomes routinized.)
posted by humbug at 8:33 AM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I, a managee, save up all my questions except emergencies for a daily check-in. This seemed onerous or delay-generating at first but it mostly works pretty well and I'd say it has encouraged me to take a bit more responsibility within the limits of my job. Some mistakes have happened as I learn but since I save all the big obvious problems for check-in they have been minor ones.

My supervisor in my fairly busy job also suggests chunking my day - something she does. You work on X from 8 to 9 daily and are therefore unreachable, no responses on slack, no emails, etc - everything should wait unless it is literally on fire. So sometimes you just...ignore your messages for an hour while you do something else. My impression is that this decreases messages in general as people take the additional time to solve their own problems and think more deeply about their questions.
posted by Frowner at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2022 [10 favorites]

That sounds very exhausting; you have my sympathies. On the work side of things, how many of the questions, pings, bothers do you *really* need to answer? Are people outsourcing their own decision-making to you because that makes their life easier? Can you make yourself slightly less available so people start looking for their own answers? Once I started saying 'I don't know' to questions (even when I knew), magically people started figuring some stuff out on their own.

Can you turn off some notifications and just check Slack, email, etc., once an hour or so? Mark up your calendar with your own 'meetings' where you're unavailable to others. Can you talk with your boss about some of this? Ask them for their process for managing and prioritizing work and decisions.

A lot of this is a letting go process which can be hard when you're used to being in complete control (I don't know if this applies to you), but it's a very freeing experience.
posted by hydra77 at 8:37 AM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: DELAY DELAY DELAY. The pressure you feel is usually self-inflicted. You want to be seen as responsive, so you drop everything to reply to the ping and address the needs of others, as if all requests are equally urgent.

It's not working for you. Ask me how I know.

Good news is you can easily train yourself to respond within a reasonable amount of time, measured in hours not minutes. Do not let the words "I'll do that right now" pass your lips. Your discipline in this area will, in turn, train your colleagues to look for their own solutions before banging down your door.

Cats are relentless, so I get your point there, but the DELAY approach works with kids too. Minor tumble? PAUSE before helping. Half the time the child will get up and soothe themselves, and in doing so, learn that they can.

Also, get that raise.
posted by nkknkk at 9:53 AM on July 7, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The most effective thing you can do as a manager is train people to own their work, projects, and decisions. Train them to need you less.
posted by Dashy at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2022 [9 favorites]

I definitely feel this, as someone who recently came back to managing after a few years as an individual contributor. I kind of forgot about how much of an additional mental load it can be!

One thing I will say, is that it does get easier. It's always more taxing when you are in a new role, so give yourself some leeway for that.

But: when you say you are the line manager for 8 people do you mean you have 8 direct reports? If so, that is too many. As a general rule, you should expect to spend about 10% of your time, give or take, on each person you manage (more for a very junior person or a manager, less for someone who's been in their role for a while and just needs the occasional question answered or need advocated for). So if you manage 8 people, that's 80% of your time right there, on top of project managing a technical project and your old realm. Anyone would be overwhelmed and overtaxed by that.

I would talk to your manager about how to rebalance the workload. That might mean completely offloading your old realm - even if you've mostly moved away from it, the mental load of still having it on your plate can be taxing. I also wonder if you can't get some of your direct reports taking on some of the project management you do. Yes, then you have to train and mentor them on that piece but you'll be building a team that's more sustainable for you to manage. And maybe some of the higher-performers can be moved towards staff management as well?

As for people having too many questions - if it's a judgment question, start almost always turning it back on them and asking what they think. If it's a fact question that you've answered before, remind them of where/when you asked it ("I think I answered that question last week in an email, can you look for that and come back to me if you can't find it?") If it's a question they should be able to find the answer for, tell them where to find it. I will be honest I feel like kind of an asshole doing this, but I think it's the best for everyone long-term. (If it's an easy question to answer and you don't have the energy for a teachable moment, just answer)
posted by lunasol at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I outsource or coin-flip any decision that doesn't really matter.

What color sheets for the guest room? Dunno. I'm going to hand the phone to my toddler, and have her point at the one she likes.

Tacos or pasta for dinner? Coin flip.

Eliminates about half the decisions from my day.
posted by champers at 12:29 PM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

You're going to burn out if you keep this up. How much of the stuff at home can you afford to pay others to do? Dog-walkers? Housekeeper a couple of times a week who cleans and does your laundry? Grocery delivery? A personal chef who cooks a week's worth of meals? Look into various options. (It's all the tasks that 1950s middle class housewives were expected to take care of for their working husbands.)

Coming home to a clean house, already-walked dogs, and easily reheatable food in the fridge would make it all easier.

And you didn't mention exercise. Try for at least 45 minutes a day, you'll feel better.
posted by mareli at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding chunking your time and encouraging reports to save up questions. It can also be effective to set up a team slack channel and suggest everyone ask each other questions too - people often have a bias toward going to the boss for everything, even things they dont actually need the boss for. Be direct about what actually needs your approval and what you feel comfortable not seeing first hand.

I also tell my reports that if they come to me with a question they should also provide their thoughts on a solution. Doesn't have to be perfect, but they need to show they've thought through some scenarios. This usually means issues are better articulated and closer to a solution once they come to me, and sometimes my only job is to sign off on a course of action instead of helping them think of one. It's good practice for them and saves energy!
posted by amycup at 2:06 PM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

Well, I can tell you that what my manager does is make the higher-level direct reports into, de facto, managers in their own right. We don't have direct reports ourselves but we have "ownership" over particular projects and the more junior team members know us to be the first line of query for anything to do with those projects.

It isn't perfect, of course, because while we have a lot of knowledge we don't actually have a lot of authority, so stuff still often has to get kicked up to our manager. But then it's stuff getting kicked upstairs by three reports, instead of 10.

Obviously this won't work right away if there aren't some obviously senior members among your direct reports--you'll have to cultivate the folks who seem talented and upwardly-mobile. So if that's the case, in the meantime you will probably have to start practicing blocking out time in your day; focus time, query time, meetings time. Unless you're somehow running an ICU via slack, everyone will indeed live if they have to wait 4 hours on a Slack query--ask me how I know!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Designate your most senior/highest performer as your second-in-command, chief of staff, manager trainee, or whatever your workplace will let you call them, hopefully with a new title and a raise. Delegate lots of responsibilities to them. Tough to say without knowing about your job but there has to be some category of question you don’t really need to be involved in.

Strongly agree with setting the expectation that your reports propose solutions instead of just dropping problems in your lap. I tell my reports they’ve probably been thinking about the problem longer than I have so their ideas are more valuable than mine. It’s true and it does empower them—you’ll be able to see their management potential too.

Could not agree more that you need to be less available. Even if you reply in the moment, schedule-send your replies for later.

I have too many direct reports and I implemented weekly “office hours.” It’s not the only time people can talk to me, but it’s a designated time they can get me for non-urgent stuff. It’s much easier to be “on” for a limited period.
posted by kapers at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

ALSO if there are repeat questions, start a library of common questions and responses they can refer to. You can delegate this to the team as well. Have them add to the q&a each time they get a new answer from you.
posted by kapers at 5:31 PM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

I was a trader on the floor of the Chicago exchanges for many years. I would make thousands of decisions daily. Constant mental concentration. Then I was going to business school at night. I was also married and raising three little kids. I would come home be friggin both exhausted and wired. I couldn't make a decision once I got home. What's for dinner? Whatever. What do you want to do Friday night? Huh.

What I learned was to be in the moment. At work, I would not think about school. At work I would leave the floor at 12:15 to make a check in call at home, but otherwise did not worry about home. At home I would focus on the three Ying yangs. They didn't know or care about the pressures. They were just funny loving little human beings. They would be a pressure relief. They would demand I tell them a story before bed instead of reading a book.

I think the advice above to focus on one thing at a time and to force your subordinates to think a little is terrific advice. Look for small wins throughout the day. Complete a task? Look at it as a win. One of your charges solves their own problem? Win. Find your favorite cookie on sale at the Kroger? Win!

Then, when you get home and sit down and look back at your Tuesday, realize that you were 9-1 today. Those are hall of fame numbers.

Lastly, sleep! Get your rest. Lack of sleep is literally and figuratively a killer. Your moods will be better with rest.

Oh, look at the big picture. Today may be draining. The weight of the world is on your shoulders. But, it sounds like your career is going well, you have set yourself up for the future.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:36 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

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