Stopping the Domino Effect

A few weeks back, I had plans for Saturday that involved getting a jump on my work. The plans were deferred to Sunday. The reason was excellent (and arose unexpectedly); the amount of time required was double what I anticipated.

By Sunday morning, the ripple effects began to hit. Not only was I growing later to my list of tasks, but physical fatigue from the day before was taking its toll. I resorted to my usual – late night hours.

Naturally, I prioritized. Yet little is cut and dry when you’re talking about choices between the people in your life – people you love, who rely on you – and paying the bills.

So the late nights grew later, and the mornings caught the spillover. Exhaustion, coffee, stress. A pattern that has continued for weeks. Cue the Domino Effect – and my desire to stop it – before it gains additional momentum.

Domino Effect vs Ripple Effect

As I attempt to determine the phrase I prefer – the Domino Effect, typically used when discussing geopolitics, or the Ripple Effect – I know that fiddling with language in my brain is, to some degree, pure procrastination: it’s another Saturday and my list is long; my significant other is waiting for me to get through “my” stuff so we can do “our” stuff; what I really want is to hide under the bed covers for 36 hours.

The pros? There are many. Hell, I’d feel better after!

The cons? Even more. Down would go the dominoes (tasks leading toward an aggressive deadline); undeniable would be the ripple effects (hurt, disappointment, irritation); “lose-lose” is all that comes to mind.

Theoretically, I’m an adult. I could make an unpopular decision and beg off the “us” stuff, focusing purely on the “me” stuff. The “us” stuff is fun; the “me” stuff would be some stay-in-bed time, with the rest – work. And if I don’t tend to work, I’m facing more all-nighters in the week to come, which is dreadful for one’s health. If I allow my personal life to take second place too often, the relationship will suffer.

Work vs Personal Life: Biting Off Too Much?

Some say I bite off more than I can chew. There’s truth to that, yet it isn’t so simple. The nature of my professional life is a fluctuating workload and frequently, tight deadlines; it can be feast or famine.

Feast can be tough; famine is tougher. So where does “biting off more than you can chew” have a place in this equation? Isn’t this one of the unfortunate effects of the evolving American economy and its bleed into what was once our “family life?”

My perception of myself is this: I’m agile when it comes to changing direction, or dealing with something that pops up with no warning. This is especially true in my professional life: Throw a monkey wrench into my planning and generally, I’ll figure something out.

But my body and my mind are resisting at the moment.

They’re screaming for a Time Out. My gray matter is threadbare; I’m pushing output through arid land. This is a ripple effect from weeks (months?) of crazy hours, demands from kids, personal obligations… and it’s a ripple effect I didn’t anticipate.

You Can’t Please Everyone, So Please Yourself

It’s a nifty expression and not surprising in our culture – since you can’t please everyone, you should please yourself. Like other catch-phrases that make for funny e-cards and cute images to pass around Facebook, real life isn’t so simple. And clichs are one dimensional.

When faced with choices of work and family conflict, falling back on “pleasing yourself” is not without its repercussions. To please myself, I would stay in bed for two days with magazines and movies. I wouldn’t meet my personal or professional obligations; I would allow my tired brain to rest.

My second choice – and the one I would likely opt for – to give preference to deadlines and keep plugging away at work. That would provide some stress relief. But I would disappoint the man I love (whom I’ve disappointed before), so my choice isn’t an easy one. Certainly, I could compromise with a few hours of work and a few less on the personal front. I’m already doing that; it’s a bumpy ride. How long can we expect a partner, family, or friends to remain understanding?

Isn’t this facing a Domino Effect on two fronts (or more) at the same time?

Stopping the Domino Effect (or the Hamster Wheel)

The Domino Effect of insufficient sleep is serious; mood, digestion, mental acuity, energy, and a host of bodily systems will be affected. Likewise, the building blocks of relationships can be disassembled by insufficient attention. But there are only 24 hours in a day, and like many in our economy, I’m on a hamster wheel that is about self-preservation.

Real life doesn’t necessarily present simple selections from which to pick and choose. Staying in bed isn’t an option. Neither is 20 hours of productivity over the weekend following a very full week, anymore than taking Saturday and Sunday “off.” These are decisions faced on a routine basis by “portfolio” workers, by creatives, by contractors, by freelancers, by the millions who work more than one job in order to provide for their families. Without regular, predictable income – and preferably, more than one per household – it’s virtually impossible to break the cycle.

It’s funny. Dominoes is not a game I played as a child. I disliked the concept of destroying the meticulous work of placing each tile. Watching the dominoes fall may make for a fascinating view, but my nature is to build, to reinforce, and to the extent possible – to adapt. I don’t care to see my constructions – or my relationships – take an irretrievable tumble.