The Siren Call of Overworking

on January 26 | in Individual Improvement | by | with Comments Off on The Siren Call of Overworking

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Whether you work in a team environment or as a solo artist/consultant, there’s always the temptation to work more hours. This past week was a fairly intense one for me, as we have a client readying for a web platform rollout along with multiple other clients ramping up their levels of production. In the week, I saw various calls to action and strategies from people in leadership positions, how people responded, and witnessed also my own reactions in both of those roles.

Whether you’re in a leadership position or provide service as a consultant or employee, you should objectively ponder these three considerations about the siren call of overworking the next time you ask or commit to overworking.

Overworking Consideration One: The Songs

There are at least three major songs that are sung by overwork as it attempts to lure your ship to the rocks and a painful death.

  1. The Team – Other people in the team ramp up the hours they contribute, and out of sympathy or competition you are stirred to do the same.
  2. The Direct Prompt – You want to be liked or to serve and are called to action by a boss, client, or a coworker in the form of a direct request.
  3. The Promise of Rewards – Carrots are put on strings and those strings tied to sticks; these rewards can be financial, time-off, or just recognition.

Obviously, all three of those are interrelated. So, the questions to consider before becoming entranced by the music apply to more than one scenario:

  1. Levels of Contribution – Regardless of time spent, has the actual contribution of others matched or exceeded your own?
  2. Reality of Reward – Is there actually a reward to be had? People dangling carrots are enticing you away from time with your family and personal projects. Are you sure the carrot will actually be there when you get to the goal-mark, or is it a mirage in the desert?
  3. Exact Goal – Is there an exact thing that needs to be accomplished, and then the intensity is over? Or will the goal repeatedly shift, meaning there can be no winning or triumph?

Unless the other people on the team have actually contributed to the same degree (they weren’t Facebooking while you were busting your hump in the first place), there’s a real way to win, and there’s a real reward in doing so, there’s no reason at all you should become a company martyr.

Overworking Consideration Two: The Company Martyr

I’ve worked for many companies, both as an employee and a consultant, and I’ve both been a company martyr and have seen other folks go down that road. There’s almost always at least one guy or gal who’s willing to sacrifice, usually without fully realizing it, their:

  1. Personal Health – Very long, intense days will almost certainly compromise your immune system. Your body will crash and you’ll be forced to take sick time, the time you should have been taking all along.
  2. Mental Health – Huge sprints of overworking leave you mentally feeble; you problem-solve less effectively and the more you overwork, the less your hours of working are worth.
  3. Financial Health – This one is perhaps offset if there is a significant financial award, but during your spree of madness you’ll eat less healthily, exercise less, and spend more money on the idle consumer amusements of the masses in order to feel okay.
  4. Relationships – Life goes on as you spend endless hours at your desk. Your loved ones will do their things, children grow up, and the world will change in interesting and inspiring ways all around you. You can think you’ll catch up with all that when you stop overworking, but you won’t – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

I’ve never seen a company martyr win. They pour everything out and never replenish, and then become an empty canteen on the side of the path because they can’t effectively work anymore. There’s a lot of inspiring stories out there about entrepreneurs who win through severe hard work and intense dedications of time, but those are not stories of company martyrs. Those folks had a vision and strived to achieve it, for their own success and out of their own heart.

How can you know? Simple – just ask yourself whose vision it is that you are tempted to overwork to fulfill. Your path is full of intense effort that needs to be done for you to get to where you’re going to, if you have a vision, but the work of a visionary is full of the joy of a parent, watching his or her child grow. Making another 10-hour day push to complete a functional specification document for a possible contract is not the same thing, at all.

Overworking Consideration Three: When It’s Worth It

Overworking is sort of like a race car circling the track. The parts wear out faster, but there’s always a championship that could make the risking of life and destruction of the car’s auxiliary parts worthwhile.

I’m not totally against overworking, and I think a lot of successful stories out there of team efforts wouldn’t have been possible without it. Having made myself sick and missed a lot of life in meaningless overwork, though, I have a fairly strict sense of when it’s really a championship race.

Is It A Championship Race?

  1. Am I this kind of race car driver? We become what we do most, and so it’s important in the cultivation of happiness that we work most on that which is closest to our hearts – that is, what is closest to who we want to be. Of course, there’s always times when we must do what we dislike, if we want to be happy. But I wouldn’t spend a month overworking to get my yard perfect, because I am not at heart a gardener.
  2. Will I be able to immediately take time off after the push? Is that time off guaranteed? Is there a clear definition of how many laps are in this race? Because unless I can point to the calendar and tell my family when I’ll be off, then it’s not important enough to myself or anyone else to be considered more than just another lap around the track.
  3. Am I the car or the driver? It’s not always easy to tell, believe you me. Often, the beast of burden thinks he leads the way because he’s up front pulling the plow. It’s a question of insight, not vision.

Business leaders the world over are beginning to recognize that having workaholics on staff is actually detrimental to their business. So, regardless of your perspective on teams and leadership, there will eventually come a time where you’ll be able to see that being a work burnout doesn’t work any better than being a drug burnout. Mighty highs and permanent damage aren’t the way to build a business – or your life.

Some people might tell you that you have to race every race like it’s a championship, if you want to get to the championship. That’s at core an issue of productivity and efficiency, though. Supposing you work 8 hours a day, then it’s imperative to be as productive as possible so that you can count most days a win. But don’t overwork, because it’s about building champion qualities in the day-to-day, not about dying in a fiery crash on the match before the championship match. So just take it easy, do your best, and then let it go.

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