Working Too Hard
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2014
Some pundits are observing that more and more of us are working longer hours. "24/7" may, in fact, be the new "9-5." We each need to examine, within ourselves, whether this applies to us and if so, what is motivating us to work "24/7"? It can be helpful to differentiate between busy work and worthwhile work. We can ask ourselves: "Where is most of our time spent?" "Is our work really productive?" "Is it helping us to achieve our goals?" "What is the culture of our work environment?" "Is there a standard that is set by others that we are trying to reach or are we setting it ourselves?" "Who determines what is too much?" "What are reasonable limits and expectations?" Do we feel guilty if we take a yoga class, have uninterrupted time with our children, read a book for pleasure, go dancing -- WITHOUT checking our mobile devices?
What may come as a surprise is that when we have this "non-stop work attitude" we are actually LESS efficient (not MORE efficient). Why? Because our brain is often trying to deal with several things simultaneously (multitasking) and we are often interrupted when we try to focus our thinking. This prevents our brain from being the most productive it can be. Interruptions adds to our stress and reduces our ability to stay on task. Our minds jump all over and we forget what we were doing or thinking and our creative and problem solving abilities are compromised.
Also, many of us do not want to admit that staying connected to work while at home or with friends interrupts and negatively impacts intimacy and relationships. Consciously or not, we send a message about what and who are important. Unless we are ABSOLUTELY TOTALLY ENGAGED IN A MAJOR PROJECT AND CANNOT BE OUT OF TOUCH -- and even then, it is questionable - we need to ask ourselves if we really need to have our smartphone buzzing on the dinner table? Do we really think it is "smart" (or kind, or thoughtful, or nice) to interrupt a meaningful conversation because of a work call? Is it absolutely essential to check emails while pushing our children on a playground swing? We each need to consider what this behavior says about us, our values and our relationships.
To be efficient in work we need to work hard and then recover -- re-set ourselves -- and avoid being in a constant state of stress. We must have a break; what works well is to take meditation breaks, exercise breaks, breathing breaks, laughing breaks. These breaks contribute to making us MORE focused and on task. When we keep going at high stress levels, without short breaks for recovery, we are likely to burn-out. While working, we are wise to take "break" intervals every couple of hours. This makes a huge difference.
And then, we need to re-evaluate our life in the context of "turning off work and avoiding "24/7." Only we can figure out how we want to live our lives. We can ask ourselves how we feel about ourselves if we do not work "24/7", we can do things that pay attention to and care for "the rest of our lives." How do our choices and behavior support our values of what is important? We can remind ourselves to be careful that we do not lose perspective on life.
A high stressed brain isn't able to problem solve, create, or think out of the box. In becoming too exhausted, we forget simple things and pleasures in our lives. We can each take a moment and evaluate where we can make adjustments to live a life that reflects our true values.