Psst: You work too much

Posted by in Productivity

Psst: you work too much

My pardons for the psychological parlour trick, but if you were at all intrigued by that headline, it’s probably because your gut – which is smarter than you may think – reacted instinctively and out of recognition. Here’s a little secret: putting in the hours, as the term goes, won’t do you any good.


Kicking the tires


Before you read any further, grab your monthly pay slips, and compare the number of hours you’ve worked over the course of the past year to that of the norm (courtesy of the OECD) of your given country. Got it? Alright, then we’re set to go.


If you’re like most people who read this humble blog and have taken an interest in its general themes about simplicity, productivity and leadership, you are most likely a busy human being in search of a simpler, better life. In short: you’d like more time to enjoy life as opposed to working your arse off to acquire or achieve the things you believe will improve your quality of life.


I’m with you, brother.


First, however, we need some perspective. If you take a look at the numbers you crunched, you first need to correct for the fact that the average hours as presented by the OECD includes the entire work force, and not only those who work “normal” hours. As an example, the average for Norway is 1.414 hours, whereas a normal, 100% position is usually calculated to be 1.800 hours. Bit of a difference, that.


As mentioned above, there’s a good chance you’re reading this because you’re working more than average and something just doesn’t feel right about it. And it shouldn’t. Certainly, there’s good reason to work hard in periods – such as when establishing your own company, or when changing positions or jobs, or other periods in time where extra effort is required to align with external requirements that simply must be met.


It shouldn’t be the norm over time, though. That’s how you discern between someone who’s merely committed and someone who’s come to suffer from workaholism.


What you stand to lose


Here’s the crux of the matter: work too much, and you stand to lose something. It’s an unfortunate effect of a few natural laws, chief among them the fact that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In non-fancy: deduct from the bank, and see your balance reduced. Granted, you may take out a loan, but you’ll eventually have to pay it back – with interest. The alternative is repossession, or in human terms burnout. Full stop.


Just like with a loan, however, you may be able to manage a relatively large monthly payment and still keep things rolling along, but that fancy house and car will cost you. That’s where you have to decide whether it’s worth it.


Working too much is like having a fancy house and car. You’ll most likely get health problems. You’re very likely to be less happy. Your social relationships will suffer. And, workaholism has cost many a child the loss of a family.


Simply put, it’s not worth it.


The cure for workitis


If you’d like the best of both worlds, I’m here to tell you that you can’t have it. Everyone is different, and must balance as they see fit, but if you’re trying to have it all… well, the same thing usually happens then as if you try to please everyone.


And faced with such a situation, most people look to become more effective, and more efficient. Which is a superb way of thinking – unless you plan to acquire those qualities only in order to make you even more ‘successful’ instead of cutting back on the number of hours you work.


Lastly; if you’re an employee with a company where you’re required – whether stated or implicitly – to work yourself to the bone, it’s time to question whether a company that apparently cannot sustain itself without such methods has the right to live. If said company is turning out profits as well, you’re either being consciously exploited, or find yourself in the employ of someone who simply doesn’t care about your well-being.


That’s just about when you should start dusting off your resumé.


P.S.: Did you know that in hunter-gatherer societies, the average time spent on acquiring and preparing what’s needed to survive lies somewhere between four and five hours per day?


Makes you ponder, doesn’t it?