If not, you aren’t alone. As we begin 2010, more and more of my clients are reporting that they are overworked, stressed, and they fear that soon their productivity will suffer.
But consider this: Just last November, in a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Productivity Soared in Third Quarter,” reporters John Hilsenrath and Luca Di Leo wrote:
The Labor Department said the output per hour of nonfarm workers rose at an annual rate of 9.5% in the quarter, more than four times the average productivity growth rate of the past quarter-century. When taken together with the second quarter’s 6.9% rise, it was the strongest productivity growth rate over a six-month period since 1961. Click here to read the entire article.
Amazing, right? Statistically speaking, the US workforce is actually more productive than it has been in years – despite the rash of layoffs and workforce reductions we saw in 2009.
But here’s my question: Can fewer workers produce more output, and sustain it? If so, what toll will it take on their health, their lives, and ultimately their companies – not just today, but in the future? See my thoughts and suggestions below.
Advice for the weary: Because I’m so passionate about this topic, I wanted to get an expert opinion on the psychological impact of feeling overworked. On the right, you’ll find my interview with therapist Anne Lee, of Bethesda Counseling Associates, who deals with issues of burnout on a daily basis and offers ideas on how to cope with workplace stress.
Take a break: Since reading is the way I relieve my stress, I can think of no better book to share on the topic of burnout than Wayne Muller’s “Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight.” His thoughtful suggestions are not to be missed.
I hope all of this food for thought brings you a welcome respite from your busy day. As always, I invite you to share your management experiences and ideas with me.
Wishing you much warmth on this freezing February day.
Best regards, Alice
|QUESTION OF THE MONTH:
Can fewer workers be as productive as a larger team – and still stay sane?
By Dr. Alice Waagen, president
My background is in management, not economics or psychology, but when it comes to productivity and burnout in the workforce of 2010, I can tell you what I’m seeing: Everyone is working harder to stay employed and in business. And if this extra work and effort enables us to build a healthier economy, I am all for it.
But what price are we paying? At what point do the long hours, anxiety and stress result in burnout? You can only assess this for yourself, but I think every person at work needs to evaluate his or her levels of stress and burnout and set a course to find a healthier balance.
The problem = not enough time
One way to deal with the “too much work” monster is to assess what you can change and what you can’t. So if you feel that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, step back and realize that there is a finite amount of time in each work week. It is the only truly fixed commodity in the business world.
What we can do is get loans or lines of credit to ease cash flow crunches, adjust deliverables to reduce work volume, and remove projects based on shifts in priorities. But we can’t add hours to the day or days to the week.
When I start feeling overwhelmed by the dwindling hours in a day and feel at risk of burning out, nothing gives me more solace than the adage: “Work smarter, not harder.” So the next time you are faced with a mountain of assignments and deadlines, apply these strategies.
How To Work Smarter, Not Harder
1. Relentlessly challenge your priorities. If you have multiple #1 priorities, ask yourself what are the true “value-added” criteria? What would you like to achieve with this work? Will it generate additional work by creating even more assignments? Will it serve as a good reference for prospective clients? Will it generate a substantial amount of goodwill with your clients that will result in paying work in the future? Or is this a one-shot contract? These value-added criteria always allow me to determine the priorities that need my attention.
2. Practice “what-if” failure scenarios to analyze the impact of errors or mistakes. This is a way to generate what I call “negative” criteria. When I contemplate reducing the length of an analysis or research phase and evaluate the impact, I discover that the degree of analysis that was “required” was self-imposed and would have minimal impact if reduced. Sometimes the feeling of being overburdened comes from our own need to be perfectionists – not from the client or even the demands of the project.
3. Avoid postponing deadlines. Postponing a due date may feel like it is buying you time, but more often than not it simply pushes the work into an already overloaded future. Again, time is a fixed commodity. Pushing a deadline to tomorrow simply ensures that you will be facing that same time crunch at a future date.
4. Rid your schedule of artificial deadlines. We seem to be working in a culture where everyone wants their deliverable “yesterday.” I recommend you push back and take control of your deadlines. Ask your boss or client what decision or action will be made once you complete the deliverable. If the decision or action that the work produces cannot be made at the stated deadline, then the deadline can effectively be adjusted closer to the decision point. This creates realistic timelines for deliverables, and helps everyone on the project keep their eye on the right ball.
Take charge of your life. I believe that the main driver for anxiety and stress is the feeling of being out of control. There is no work, no job, and no profession worth your ruined health. Faced with deadlines and deliverables, take a moment to honestly assess strategies for prioritizing the work you are doing to make sure that you are in control of what you do – and how you do it.
Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest and Delight
By Wayne Muller
I can think of no better book to remedy life stress than Wayne Muller’s “Sabbath.” This is a quiet book, and Muller’s message is unhurried and subtle, as anyone who celebrates the Sabbath would expect.
Do read it thoughtfully, though, and challenge yourself with some of the practices that Muller outlines. When you do, I am confident you will slowly learn how to create rest in your life.
Here’s why: Muller defines Sabbath in the way it was originally meant – as rest. Rest is different from relaxation or recreation. It is the natural counterpart to action and is required for a balanced life. He explains that embracing the Sabbath is a conscious effort for one must find the rhythm between work and rest. Without rest, he insists, action builds on action until we become exhausted, frenzied and overwhelmed. Who can’t relate to that?
I carried it with me and picked it up in short bits, reading one chapter at a time. That was not difficult for “Sabbath” is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on one aspect of rest – such as time, happiness and rhythm. The sections of each chapter are a scant two pages and culminate in recommended practices, short thought pieces or activities that help bring a key concept into our lives.
One of my favorites ideas comes in the section on “fear of rest,” for Muller asks us to consciously practice silence. “Go for a walk or visit with a friend and do not speak,” he writes. “Be aware of your resistance to silence then see how it changes how you experience the situation.”
Such sage advice makes me regularly return to the book again and again for each passage that I read provides me with a sense of renewal and ease – something I tend to lose sight of when I am on the treadmill of work and life.
Parting thought: Action balanced by rest creates a sustainable life and one easy to obtain if we consciously adopt the behaviors expected on the Sabbath.