As our boss pushed his head harder into the pavement, he worked harder.
That’s all he knew how to do.
I worked with him for two years. Every crisis led him to work harder. Pretty soon, as things got rough, he’d worked seven days a week. From 7 am all the way through to bedtime.
He hardly saw his family. His kids became a distant memory. When he finally missed a family holiday to the beach, his wife had enough.
She cracked it.
“No more working hard. It solves nothing. Time for you to get a new job.”
Working harder gets you nowhere. If you can relate, try these things instead.
Quit fake work
Working harder is a bear trap. It’s one I’ve stepped on plenty of times.
A lot of what looks like working harder is simply fake work. Work that looks like work but isn’t. Fake work helps hide the real problems that haven’t got solved.
Meetings, emails, hallway gossip, Slack chats — can all become fake work. The way to expose fake work is to look at your list of priorities.
If the work task isn’t on the list of your priorities, it’s bullsh*t work you’re using as an excuse to avoid real work.
Ask yourself why. You’ll get some pretty scary answers — they’ll help you gain control again.
Ask the critics to shoot you down
We all have our critics (I’ve got plenty).
Engaging critics is all about giving them license to kill. When I want a critic to help me solve a problem, I say “feel free to be brutal with your feedback.”
That permission slip unleashes a tidal wave of feedback. Some is useful. Some isn’t. But it takes me out of my mind full of fairies that think everything I touch turns to gold.
Let critics help explain why you work so hard. Use the feedback to change.
Automate everything like you’re Jeff Bezos
It’s far too easy to become a manual labor junkie.
I’ll admit it: I do many manual tasks that could be automated. If it’s a task done on a computer then Zapier will save your life from hard work. Zapier can automate almost any task between multiple layers of software using the simple framework of “If This Then That.”
The way to find out what to automate is to keep a list of BS tasks.
They’re typically manual or repetitive tasks. Then you can either figure out how to automate them yourself, or use a virtual assistant or Zapier consultant you find on Upwork to systematize it for you.
Jeff Bezos made Amazon the king of automation. You can apply the same principle. Automate as much as possible.
Distractions make us dumb. We can’t resist the temptation.
I don’t trust myself not to be distracted. The best way is to:
- Turn off all notifications on tablets, laptops, phones, computers.
- Put your phone in another room while you work.
- Set a list of priorities in the morning. Stay away from distractions until they’re done. Then reward yourself with a Zuckerberg app distraction.
In the future, employers will hire based on your focus score. Until then, work as if distractions are your enemy. Because they are.
The more distractions, the harder you work. Your choice.
Pull out the big guns
Sometimes you can’t see the delusion by yourself. You pretend you don’t work hard when you do.
Mentors are a great reset button.
Choose one or two who know you well. For example, my former boss (now a friend) from banking knows me extremely well. If I tell him to help me with my working-too-hard problem, there’s no fooling him.
He knows me so well that it won’t be long before we work out the problem. Once you know the problem you use the mentor as an accountability partner.
You can even go wild here and use time-tracking apps that automatically send reports to your accountability partner. Add in a penalty for working too hard, and you’ll be well on a path to recovery.
Treat working hard like cancer. Cut it off from the source and suck the oxygen out of the problem.
Ask others for help
Working hard can easily be a disguise for “afraid to ask for help.”
It’s easy to put on big boy pants and say “I’ve got this.” But getting work done isn’t about achieving hero status.
Teamwork is better than one person working stupidly hard. Plus working together applies multiple brains to the one problem — the mental load is easier to remove that way.
It’s okay to ask for help. You don’t need to do everything on your own, because there are 7.8 billion people on earth.
Put a plan in place
Without a plan you’ll work hard.
Spend time at the start of the week planning what needs to get done. Set some simple goals. Every night before bed loosely plan the next day.
Write down the starter tasks that will create momentum. And debrief at the end of the week to see what went wrong, so you don’t slowly head down the path of insanity to overworking.
A back-of-the-napkin plan will save your life from burnout.
Take care of your meat suit
Always work with your meat suit body in mind. If your body is screwed your work is screwed. And once that happens the quality of work will go down and you’ll have to work harder to maintain it.
Not looking after your body is a hamster wheel that’s hard to get off. To stay off the hamster wheel, do this:
- Exercise daily. Whatever works for you — just move.
- Get sunshine. No sun equals too much time indoors.
- Give your mind a workout with books. A chapter a day keeps a burnt out mind away.
- Consume the good stuff. No need for a lecture. You know — fruit, whole grains, vegetables, water.
Working harder isn’t the answer. It’s a cover-up for the real problem.
The human body wasn’t designed to work hard, stare at a screen for 16 hours, and sit in a chair all day.
Answers to hard problems come to you when you have more free time and work less. Now you’ve got a basic blueprint to stay away from overworking.