We know that overwork is hazardous to our health and to our productivity, yet 21st century women (and men) often let work fill our days, nights, and weekends. How much is too much, and how do we know when (and how) to quit?
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Why Do We Work So Much–and How Can We Know When to Quit?
A listener recently asked a question about knowing when to quit–how and when to put work aside and turn to the other important activities and people in our lives. It got me thinking about why we work so much (and so hard).
What kind of overwork are we talking about?
Sometimes we just take on many different activities, so we’re constantly working as we try to juggle all the balls, keep the plates spinning (pick your favorite metaphor). Sometimes we just work a lot at one thing, working late at the job, or working late into the night on our projects at home. Overwork is epidemic in our modern culture. A 2014 New Yorker article, “The Cult of Overwork,” cited a 2008 Harvard Business School study of 1,000 professionals that found that 94% of them worked 50 hours a week or more, and almost half worked more than 65 hours a week. This study was conducted seven years ago, and things haven’t improved since then. It’s not just business people who are working hard, either, as every stay-at-home mom knows very well!
Why do we work so hard?
Sometimes it’s that we have so many interests, and life is short–we want to do/try/achieve it all in the time we have on this earth or we fear missing out on a single great opportunity. Some of us just feel that drive to achieve–not necessarily a bad thing, but if we’re driven by a sense (whether conscious or not) that we need to prove ourselves worth, or if we’re finding our identity in our work, it might not be healthy. Sometimes we’re responding to other people’s expectations (real or perceived). And sometimes we are letting busyness and hard work mask feelings we don’t want to deal with.
How much is too much?
This is such an individual thing. But a recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Is Overwork Killing You?” looked at the issue of overwork and its consequences:
Whether we are forced to or choose to work too much . . . a growing body of research suggests that working long hours damages our health, productivity, and families. A recent study suggests it might be a factor in 120,000 deaths a year. Research also shows that people often use devices and policies meant increase autonomy to take work home and work around the clock.
What are some signs you might be working too much?
* Tired all the time
* Frequent illness
* Impatient or cranky with strangers or loved ones
* Often anxious or agitated
* Loved ones comment on your overwork or unavailability to them
On the other hand, even if you’re working a lot, it’s probably okay to keep going if:
* You wake up most mornings filled with anticipation
* You feel joy
* You go to sleep at night happy and fulfilled, and sleep well
* Your loved ones are happy and feel loved and valued by you
So if you need to quit . . .
If it was easy, everybody would do it.
If it’s a matter of setting more reasonable boundaries on your work hours, you can work on improving your systems for managing time, projects, and tasks to be more efficient during working ours, set a timer and go home (or leave your home office) at a predetermined time.
If you’ve taken on too many obligations or activities, though, it’s time to do some triage. Determine which activities are essential at this time, and figure out how to gracefully extricate yourself from the others. Some can be delegated, some can be delayed. Others we may have to find the courage to go to other people, apologize (if necessary), and help transition them to other people.
Again I encourage you to read Greg McKeown’s life-changing book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
What do you think?
Are you feeling the effects of overwork in your life and struggling to know when and how to quit? Or have you found ways to balance work and rest that you could share with the rest of us? Please share your thoughts in the show notes below, on the Facebook page, or via email.
I was recently privileged to be a guest on Carrie Robaina’s podcast, My Simple Podcast, where we talked about Making a Life That Matters. Please check out Carrie’s podcast in iTunes or on her website–you’ll find my conversation with Carrie in episode 21. And many thanks to Carrie for the invitation!
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