Ever find yourself bragging about working a 60, 80 or even 100 hour work week or publicly complaining on social media about that incessantly heavy workload of yours? This is not a badge of honor. It is generally a sign that something is wrong, and it could be the way you go about your work.
We’ve all heard the old adage “work smarter, not harder” and this tends to ring true for a number of reasons. When I say “smarter” here I’m talking about choosing more efficient ways of going about things over using raw labor hours spent on a task as your metric for productivity. Smarter work does not mean that you should kick up your feet and call it a day after putting in the bare minimum. First and foremost as a reason for not working longer than you should have to, however, is that study after study has shown that our effectiveness as workers decreases dramatically after just 8 to 10 hours daily, or about 40 to 50 hours weekly. Pushed even further, there is also a severe amount of cognitive degradation caused by those marathon work sessions which some people boast so openly and proudly about. Some studies have shown that simply saying awake more than 19 to 24 hours without rest is akin to having a 0.1% blood alcohol content, well above legal limits in the United States for driving. Longer term sleep deprivation has also been shown to cause other severe physiological side effects including depression, hallucinations, confusion, weight gain, and much more, including harming our short term memory which is critical for work-related tasks. As the average nightly rest has plummeted from 12 hours about 100 years ago to just 6.8 hours today, we have to realize that there are going to be substantial impacts to health and productivity. So why again are so many people so proud of these countless hours wasted not working to their full potential?
Some researchers have gone even further, proposing that this strong desire to outwork the other guy (or gal) in terms of labor hours alone is a major contributing factor causing so many popular tech startups, as many as 75%, to outright fail. This seems very plausible given the detrimental effects a constant push to produce has on actually getting things accomplished effectively and efficiently. So why do we do it? It’s human nature I suppose, at least in this country, to outdo your competitors – real or imagined – by any means possible. This is especially true if you lack the necessary experience, training or processes to work at peak efficiency. If you’re working 60 or more hours per week, you must be getting ahead of them, right? Not necessarily. In fact, the opposite is generally true and we should stop treating longer work days and weeks as a competitive advantage just because it is popular.
Yet another reason this occurs is that some individuals simply want to look and sound relevant. Putting in (or pretending to put in) those few dozen extra hours every week means you must be that much better at your job or more important to your organization, right? Not at all. Perpetuating this myth only hurts others, especially up and coming startup and business leaders, by making them believe that working marathon hours is smarter and the only way to get ahead. But, if someone is putting in all those extra hours legitimately and failing to get ahead it is almost always a sign of processes breaking down, inadequate training, or a lack of the necessary skills and experience to efficiently perform their job.
Processes, love ’em or hate ’em, are what will make or break your business and preserve your sanity. We’ve had the opportunity to help several companies implement standardized processes for everything from IT support and software development to operations and project management. Because of this, I can say confidently, speaking from experience, that investing resources up front to do this will absolutely save you precious time and can even prevent failure of crucial projects or your business in general. That being said, without standardized processes you simply aren’t managing time effectively, balancing workloads properly, or operating at peak efficiency. You’ll find yourself constantly struggling to catch up, regardless of the amount of hours being put in. If this sounds at all familiar, it may be time to bring in an expert to help put things in line. After all, those absurdly long hours spent working not only negatively affect your team’s health and well-being, but also have detrimental impacts on their personal and family lives as well which further impact their productivity. In the end, family is all that matters and there are some simple techniques to streamline your business or technical operations today which will enable you to spend more time with them. That is ultimately what counts.