You don’t want to be like bad inventory — first in and last out; stale and not fresh. The days of being lauded for winning the marathon for working the most hours are well behind us.
The quantity of hours logged rarely translates to improved quality and often leads to a lack of creativity and focus. That is not to say there are not genuine circumstances where long hours are necessary to complete a project or deal with a system outage, but have you ever met anyone who makes a great decision when they are tired?
Working long hours as a habit will eventually result in burnout. Be honest with yourself — are you working long hours for habitual or circumstantial reasons? Whether you are an individual contributor or a leader, you need to find a way to break the cycle, find a better way to get things done, and start working to live.
Are You Creating Problems?
If you work too much, you are likely creating more problems than you are solving. Hours spent reading every email, teasing out every detail, and questioning minor decisions made by others won’t lead to a voluntary following. Model-Netics has a model for people who seek to get credit for solving problems they create. They are called ‘The Gun.’ These individuals are not revered in the organization. If you are a workaholic who associates desk time with productivity, then you are likely also a ‘Gun’ in that you seek ways to find relevance in creating work for others that may not be a benefit to the team or the organization.
If you find a sense of purpose in solving problems, make sure you are doing it as part of a collaborative, informed, and empowered team. In a collaborative setting, nobody wants a hero — they want a teammate. In addition to the atmosphere that surrounds a great team, there is a base-of-knowledge benefit to not running solo. You can tap a wealth of tribal knowledge and experience, information that you did not have when you were leading the charge of one. Create an environment where you remove yourself as the focus. It will foster loyalty and improve productivity.
Where to start? Go home on time and get a restful night of sleep. That is the best first step in recharging your batteries and staving off burnout. You will be refreshed and the problem may have solved itself by morning!
Take All Of Your Vacation Time
I used to work on a team with a gentleman who refused to take a vacation. He believed that the office simply wouldn’t run as well without him there. It led his team to also decline taking time off. Their worry? That he would chastise them for being unimportant or not dedicated to their work.
This practice was detrimental to the team and good talent began to leave. As a leadership team, we decided to host vacation planning sessions. Our belief was that if the CIO sat down and planned vacations with the team, everyone should feel comfortable taking time off. It was slow to gain traction, yet once it became the norm, team members were headed for new adventures, obtaining passports, and returning wishing they had done it all sooner. There is no greater reward for working hard than playing hard. Make sure you are fostering an environment where people take their earned time off. My greatest ideas come when I am refreshed and return from being unplugged. Unplugged? Yes. If you are on vacation, don’t check your email either. It will still be there when you get back.
Don’t Mistake Activity With Accomplishment
Joe Scarlett, retired CEO and Chairman of Tractor Supply Company created The Scarlett Leadership Institute in 2006. One of his many insightful quotes to students is, “Don’t mistake activity with accomplishment.” Being chained to your desk or smartphone does not make you more important or more in control. Not everything is important. He was instrumental in teaching me to let go and to empower others to make decisions. It’s not about being seen in the office for 12 hours at a stretch. Office time for the sake of office time is not conducive for the dynamic span of generations we lead today. Enable a culture where you don’t feel guilty for an 8-hour day (or less) at the office. When is the last time you didn’t put in an extra couple of hours at home after dinner, home work with the kids, and even a favorite TV show? Accomplishment comes in getting your work done, spending meaningful time with others, and throwing in a workout or hobby.
For all of the hours we spend fixated on our careers, the alerts on our phones, and the need to be connected, we often lose site of the more important things in our life. You will never wish you worked more hours, yet you will wish you had tackled more items on your bucket list.
Don’t have a bucket list? Step away from the office and create one. The world is waiting. Where will you go first?
I hope this inspires you to make a positive change in your life. If it does, before you unplug for your vacation (or as soon as you get back) let me know what you’re doing. I look forward to hearing from you.