Of Bravery, Cowardice, and Recognizing
Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
-- George S.
Patton Jr., Letter of Instruction Number 1, Third Army
You've got to be in top physical condition. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
-- Vince Lombardi
comes to each of us every day and affects us at work. There are things
we can do to reduce or increase the fatigue and ways we can work
through and around the fatigue.
I am unsure of the origin of the
above quotes. I know they came from Lombardi and Patton (two giants for
those 50 and over), and they are almost certainly attached to the US
Military Academy at West Point, but I have read that these ideas extend
back to the ancients. Whatever the origin, I have experienced the link
between fatigue and cowardice in the halls, meeting rooms, and server
farms of the IT world.
Top physical condition leads to good
health and energy. That leads to being attentive, creative, and
productive. A good night's sleep, a good meal, a good afternoon nap --
these all add to a good period of work.
The opposite of good
health is fatigue, and fatigue leads to cowardice. This isn't the type
of cowardice that has us running out of the building and diving for
cover in a ditch. Cowardice in the IT world is more difficult to see.
Instead of picking up the phone and making that difficult phone call,
I'll sit at my desk and think of something else to occupy my time for
the rest of the afternoon. Fatigue will convince me that it is OK to
sit and wait and hope that the situation just sort of goes away. Most
situations don't just sort of go away. They grow worse until they
collapse on everyone.
I am not a health expert, and I doubt that
many IT managers are, either. There are, however, plenty of people
available who know about health and vitality in the workplace. It may
surprise you how many of your colleagues know much on this topic. We do
not all fit the stereotype of the geek who only occasionally goes out
into the "big blue room."
You and your colleagues don't have to
be in condition to run a marathon or to win a body-building contest (I
have known geeks who could do both -- and at the same time).
Nevertheless, good health is possible for those of us confined to
keyboards and meeting rooms. Health-building habits are fairly simple:
good nutrition (a balance of carbohydrates and protein, in moderate
quantities), exercise (walk the halls and the stairs a few times a
day), and rest. Side note: resting is a legitimate use of time during
the "work" day.
Habits harmful to health are also fairly simple
and, unfortunately, far more prevalent. Consider the same three areas.
Nutrition: drugs and alcohol, smoking, caffeine (sorry, had to throw
that one in there), and junk food. If you have trouble pronouncing the
ingredients on a food package, don't consider it food. Exercise: don't
buy the Segway for the office, no matter how long the hallways. Rest:
sleep at night, and nap during the day.
Learn to recognize
fatigue in yourself and act accordingly. The worst thing to do is to
know you are tired but ignore it. For example, a senior executive once
confided in me about a (typical) day where he went from one meeting to
the next: 9-10, 10-11, 11-12, 12-2. No breaks, no lunch, no snacks. "I
couldn't listen anymore. I just wanted to take a five-minute nap." He
never had that nap. He wouldn't walk to the end of the hall and back,
and he didn't eat -- anything. He and others made critical,
far-reaching decisions while in degraded physical, mental, and
emotional states. And note that all he needed to do was pause for five
minutes. Five little minutes in a 10-hour day.
I cannot state
how many times I have heard, "but we are different here. We hire only
the best, the toughest, the people who can work and work and work
without rest. Look at me, I have worked 12 hours a day for weeks on
end, and look what I have achieved!" Such is bravado, and such nonsense
is one result of fatigue -- a failure to think clearly and speak
I once heard an old joke about a laborer who claimed
never to get tired. Every few hours he would stop working, sit, and
close his eyes. Several fellow workers chided him, "I thought you never
got tired." His reply was, "I don't. When I start to get tired, I rest."
There is some wisdom in that old joke.
Dwayne's home page.