What does your maintenance look like?


I am continually struck by how many people are struggling in life with stress, relationships, time, and spirituality and how few people associate their ordeals with the lack of understanding towards adding personal  maintenance and downtime into the cost of doing business. The book, "The Overworked American" by Juliet Schor, recently stated that that the average person in North America "works more hours than those in any other developed country, in spite of large increases in productivity during recent decades. We have chosen to take the economic surplus that immense productivity provides not in time but in more and more consumer goods.”  Simply put, we could have more time if we chose to cash in our productivity towards it.  Instead, we cash it in for money and more stuff. I was thinking about this recently as I found myself sitting at a local coffee shop.....

It's a rare sunny day in February and I find myself sitting at a local coffee shop; outside on the patio naturally. A man gracefully rides by on his cross-country bicycle and a women laughs on cell phone. As a gentle waft of cigarrette smoke passes by me, I am reminded of when I was a kid and spent warm summers at the lake; the smell of nicotine mixed with boat exhaust as people played on the water and relaxed on the beach. Like most days, however, I find myself working, tirelessly trying to catch up on a list of to-do's that seem to never end.

Perhaps it is the drive to provide exceptional service or be the best at your craft. Maybe it is just a lie that society has slowly made us come to believe, compelling me to work hard, and any rest I may have time for or want, is somehow seen as weakness or laziness. When someone asks how I'm doing, I feel compelled to say "busy", as if "restful and slow" was something to be embarrassed about. I pack my day full of as much "productive" work as I can, convinced that somehow this makes me a good steward of the time I've been given. As employees, we feel job security comes in our sacrifical giving and refusal to say "no." Even when someone asks how I'm doing, I feel compelled to say "busy", as if "restful and slow" was something to be embarrassed about.

I wonder how often businesses stop to consider the cost of ownership of an employee. After all, an employee is your greatest asset and you should be taking care of it. Perhaps an analogy would serve us well, in reflecting upon this idea. When the city of Vancouver hires a construction company to build a road, a line item of the quote traditionally includes equipment required and the cost to rent that equipment for the day. This cost includes the cost of ownership, maintenance, and service required to ensure that piece of equipment operates at it's best ability. The construction company understands that caring for this asset is a cost of doing business. If they don't maintain the asset, it will eventually fall apart and be of no use. How often does the mechanic complain about how much it costs for that asset to be maintained? Fairly infrequently I would imagine. After-all, if it's being used, it needs to be cared for.

Hopefully you can understand the analogy that I'm drawing here. When was the last time we calculated our "healthy downtime" as a maintenance cost? Consider this: If I work a 10 hour day, and am exhausted, burned out, running low on energy, stressed, and need to take some time to refresh; should this not be taken into account when I consider my "cost of doing business?" Is this not a direct result of my "asset" being used for a job? Certainly we could argue that we are being "sold" or "rented" for a certain dollar value an hour, but have you given consideration to the toll your work causes on your life-style or your body? How much is your physical and mental maintenance worth to you?

Continuing the analogy, how often do you maintain your body and mind? Often, in our society,  "being out for maintenance" is considered weakness. When was the last time someone told you your car was junk when you said it needed it's oil changed? It's just a necessary part of keeping the vehicle in shape. On a sunny day like this, I feel compelled to lay on the warm grass, throw a ball to my dog and just enjoy the pleasantness of doing nothing. Some time where I can take a moment away from the continual high stress and required "high-productivity" continually demanded of it. Perhaps it's a day like this to contemplate childish things and childish behaviour. Watching airplanes pass overhead and remembering childhood dreams of being a pilot. Or maybe just taking a moment to chat with another patron at the coffee shop about nothing in particular. Maybe it's finally opening that book that has been in my backpack for months but never quite made it to my table. What is it that refreshes you? What does your "maintenance" look like? When was the last time you visited the mechanic and made sure you were tuned and ready to go and be truly productive again?