by Bill Flury

Wednesday Morning Wake-Up Call

It was 10:15 a.m. and Jack, our bright, young Technical Aide, was sound asleep in his chair. This was unusual because Jack was usually a bundle of energy, bustling about and eager to help any of the senior staff. However, Jack was clearly asleep so, as gently as I could, I said, “Wake up Jack.”

Jack woke up with a start and quickly apologized for drifting off. He said, “Sorry, I hope it doesn’t happen again.” I wondered why he was worried that it might happen again and asked him the reason. He told me why and it was a story with a lesson for all of us.

Jack’s Story

Jack said that it all started a few weeks ago when he and his wife figured that they needed a bit more money. They both thought that they might be able to pick up a part time job for a couple of hours in the evenings and they both started looking. He got a lead and followed up on it with a local supermarket. The job involved spending 3 hours, 3 nights a week restocking the shelves at the market. It sounded good.

Our company had rules about “outside employment” because of concerns about proprietary data that we handled. Jack asked our manager if it would be ok for him to take this job. Restocking shelves at the market offered no conflict so the manager gave his ok and Jack took the job.

The second job went well. Jack told me he was able to finish his regular work, get home and have a quick bite to eat, then head off to the store. He could finish by 11:00 pm and be home and in bed by 11:30. The extra money was really nice to have. Things went very smoothly for several weeks. Then, things changed a bit.

What Changed?

There was one other person doing the same part-time thing that Jack was doing and he got sick and could not come to work. The market manager asked Jack if he could fill in for the other guy until the other guy got better. Jack figured a couple of late nights would be ok especially since it was every other night. And, the extra pay for the extra hours would be nice and it would just be for a few nights until the other guy got better.

Unfortunately, the other guy stayed sick and the manager was not able to get a replacement. Jack found that the additional hours were beginning to wear on him and told the manger that he would have to cut back to his original hours. The manager pressed him really hard to keep working the double shift.

What Happened Next?

Jack told me that the extra pay made it very attractive so he kept on, now working until past midnight. He figured he could to tough it out. He said that so far it had worked out pretty well but he also admitted that he had dropped off to sleep here at work one or two times before this and no one had noticed. He was sorry that he had been caught napping. He had never been in this kind of situation before. He asked for my advice.

We agreed that it didn’t look like he could do both jobs well. If he cut back to his original hours at the market, he would not get the extra money, his manager would be unhappy and might even let him go. If he continued to be sleep-deprived here his work would suffer and this job might be in jeopardy. I asked him, “Which job would you rather lose?”

The choice was easy. Jack said that while it was really nice to have the extra cash from the part-time job but he’d rather quit that than get fired from his full-time job with us. Good thinking, Jack!

The Larger Lesson

Sometimes when you are working on a project you can slip into a situation like Jack’s, where you are trying to work on two things at once. For example: You are working on a long-term task that is critical to your project’s success and your manager asks you to help out a team working on another task that is having a problem. Then, despite your help, some new complications arise. Their problem continues. You suddenly become the key troubleshooter working to find the solution. You dive into that and your work on your primary task starts to get neglected.

That’s when you need a “Wake Up” call. That’s when you need to remember Jack’s story, re-think your priorities and get back to working on what’s really important.


Jack quit the market job and invested his evenings in finishing off his Associate degree at the local community college. Getting the degree led to an automatic raise, which more than made up for what he would have gotten at the market.

We often pick our priorities subconsciously. Stop and think about it for a second. Are you missing out on anything?

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