Tag: stress (page 1 of 2)

On ‘Executive Function Theft’

This post by Abigail Goben popped up in several places and is one of those that gives a name to someone most people will recognise. It’s an important differentiation on what is often called ‘care work’ as it highlights how something important is taken when repetitive, administrative work is outsourced to other humans.

Executive Function Theft (EFT) is the deliberate abdication of decision-making, tasks, and responsibilities that are perceived as administrative or repetitive, of lesser importance, or aren’t pleasant or shiny, to another person, with the result that the receiving person’s executive function becomes so exhausted that they are unable to participate in, contribute to, or enjoy higher level efforts.


In the workplace, an example of EFT often plays out in the inequality of service labor, and I will specifically use academic service work here as it is my current workplace. Think of the people who end up with more than their share of administrative maintenance tasks — such as organizing get well cards, scheduling workshops, or taking notes. Consider the colleague who has a list of committee appointments a yard long and has just gotten a request to be on Another! Important! (is it?) Committee. These individuals may not be doing these tasks strictly because it is their job responsibility, but because they see a need to be filled or have been asked or tasked with taking on more service that they feel they cannot turn down. And notice how those tasks so often fall to the same group of people — especially when we get to any form of implementation or ongoing commitment rather than the “fun” ideation phase. One way to calculate these service loads would be to count the number of committees and task forces held by and expected of various individuals — who gets a pass and who gets penalized if they don’t say yes.

Quite often there’s a gendered component as to who is tasked with these additional service responsibilities — the office housekeeping as well as the care tasks of the workplace.


I will admit to never having been able to read Cal Newport’s Deep Work all the way through — I got too irritated — but I would point to his dismissive naming of the idea of “shallow work”, which he defines as logistical and often repetitive tasks, such as writing short emails. Newport recommends entirely stopping or poorly performing that work; I read this as encouraging readers to commit EFT against others around them. Too often the dump off of what are critical responsibilities is not to a specifically tasked and appreciated administrator but instead onto the junior, female, minoritized, non-tenure track, or precarious employees. It’s the maintenance work of keeping the workplace going and we do not appreciate the maintainers. Similarly thinking about EFT in the workplace, I was reminded of the guy who got famous with the Four Hour Workweek book and how we were all just supposed to outsource things to nameless underpaid gig workers. Notably, when looking for a summary of that book, I found an article by Cal Newport praising it.

Source: Executive Function Theft | Hedgehog Librarian

Image: Uday Mittal

Six Causes of Burnout at Work

This is an interesting article from UC Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine based on journalist Jennifer Moss’ new book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It. It not only talks about organisational factors, but personality types as well.

1. Workload. Overwork is a main cause of burnout. Working too many hours is responsible for the deaths of millions of people every year, likely because overwork makes people suffer weight loss, body pain, exhaustion, high levels of cortisol, sleep loss, and more.

2. Perceived lack of control. Studies show that autonomy at work is important for well-being, and being micromanaged is particularly de-motivating to employees. Yet many employers fall back on watching their employees’ every move, controlling their work schedule, or punishing them for missteps.

3. Lack of reward or recognition. Paying someone what they are worth is an important way to reward them for their work. But so is communicating to people that their efforts matter.

4. Poor relationships. Having a sense of belonging is necessary for mental health and well-being. This is true at work as much as it is in life. When people feel part of a community, they are more likely to thrive. As a Gallup poll found, having social connections at work is important. “Employees who have best friends at work identify significantly higher levels of healthy stress management, even though they experience the same levels of stress,” the authors write.

5. Lack of fairness. Unfair treatment includes “bias, favoritism, mistreatment by a coworker or supervisor, and unfair compensation and/or corporate policies,” writes Moss. When people are being treated unjustly, they are likely to burn out and need more sick time.

6. Values mismatch. “Hiring someone whose values and goals do not align with the values and goals of the organization’s culture may result in lower job satisfaction and negatively impact mental health,” writes Moss. It’s likely that someone who doesn’t share in the organization’s mission will be unhappy and unproductive, too.

Source: Six Causes of Burnout at Work | Greater Good

How to recover from burnout

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines occupational burnout as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

Based on that definition, I’ve experienced burnout twice, once in my twenties and once in my thirties. But what to do about it? And how can we prevent it?

I read a lot of Hacker News, including some of the ‘Ask HN’ threads. This one soliciting advice about burnout received what I considered to be a great response from one user.

Around August last year I just couldn’t continue. I wasn’t sleeping, I was frequently run down, and I was self-medicating more and more with drugs and alcohol. It eventually got to the point where simply opening my laptop would elicit a fight or flight response.

I was lucky enough to be in a secure enough financial situation to largely take 6 months off. If you’re in a position to do this, I highly recommend it.

I uninstalled gmail, slack, etc. from my phone. I considered getting a dumb phone, but settled for turning off push notifications for everything instead. I went away with my girlfriend for a week and left all my tech at home except for my kindle (literally the first time I’ve been disconnected for more than a couple of days in probably 20 years). I exercised as much as possible and spent time in nature going for walks, etc.

I’ve been back at it part time for the last few months. Gradually I felt the feelings of burnout being replaced with feelings of boredom, which is hopefully my brain’s way of saying that it’s starting to repair itself and ready to slowly return to work.

I’m still nowhere near back to peak productivity, but I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I may never get back there. I’m 36 and probably would have dropped dead of overwork by 50 if I kept up the tempo of the last 10 years anyway.

I’m not ‘cured’ by any means, but I believe things are slowly getting better.

My advice to you is to be kind and patient with yourself. Try not to stress about not having a side-project, and instead just focus on self-care for a while. Someone posted this on HN a few weeks back and it really hit close to home for me: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429

Source: Ask HN: Post Burnout Ideas | Hacker News