Working to Death…

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I know we say this at times, “You are going to work yourself to death if you aren’t careful!”  Did you know this is actually true?  I recently had a conversation with a friend who has moved to a job overseas, and now manages workers in parts of Asia.  He talked about having positions to fill because employees that worked for him where literally dying from over work.

Late last year (December 2013) a young woman Tweeted that she had been working for 30 straight hours and was still going strong.  Hours later she collapsed into a coma and never woke up, dying at the age of 24. (Story can be read here)  Over work to this level might be a cultural thing in that part of world, but it is no less prevalent here in America, we just haven’t had a story about anyone dying from it yet.

In a time where there is huge discussion about the minimum wage, cost of living, an aging Baby Boomer workforce, an influx of undocumented workers, recession level unemployment slow to recover, and technological efficiency of the new world there is pressure to work hard and longer.   Sometimes just to make ends meet, other times to be able to keep up with our consumerism driven world.  The Galaxy S4 phone is only a yearish old, and now the S5 is getting released.  Gotta have the newest gadgets, need to work more so I can get the iPhone X when it comes out. Need those extra hours because my son needs lunch money or food on the table for dinner.

Yes the pressures seem to come from every direction, including from within us.

However, before you agree to take on that second shift and sacrifice a good night’s sleep or spending time with your wife/family/kids consider a few good reasons to pass up that extra time at work.

1) Sleep improves productivity 

A study on biological sleep clocks by researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, shows the longer someone is awake while they are sleep-deprived, the slower their work production becomes.  It also was able to show that sleep deprivation can be a cumulative process, not just a one time flash in the pan issue.  Following an incident where she collapsed and broke her cheek bone when she fell,  Arianna Huffington was quoted as saying “The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep.”  I think she knows what she is talking about.

2) Quality always wins over Quantity

Sure if you pull that all-nighter you can get some serious quantity of product, content or reports done.  However, is the end product you are producing any good?  Despite what we might think the brain is not capable of multi-tasking.  If you start thinking about one thing you have to stop thinking about something else.  So when you take on more tasks all with tight deadlines your brain bounces from one subject to the other.  Each time it does  ideas are lost and with them the quality of what you bring to your work team is lost right along with it.  This is even more true when the brain is tired and thus the quality of thought put forth decreases the more tired we become.

3. There will always be more work

There is one constant in our work lives, we are never done.  The work we do today might not be the same as the work we do a year from today, but rest assured there will be work a year from now. Work is not like a board game where you are just trying to get to the finish.  Work is perpetual, unless you are putting yourself out of a job. I can’t tell you how many times I have sent a person that works for me home following them saying how much there was to get done by saying “and it will all be there tomorrow.” Work is a never ending marathon, that if you don’t take time to rest will end for you very prematurely.

4. Most of what we do is not that important

It might be important today (and at times even that is debatable), but can you honestly recount what you were doing five years ago today? Can you name the project you were working on or the tasks you were doing on this day a year ago, five years ago, ten?  I will absolutely concede there are professions where lives, quite literally, hang in the balance. For those carreers I would recommend rereading point number one, and then taking a nap.  For the rest of us where we do work, but we are not struggling with life or death situations, is anyone going to remember next year that it took them an extra day to get their computer installed, so that you could attend your daughter’s play at school?  I doubt it…

5. You want to be there for others

Over working can cost you relationships. In her book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”, former hospice worker Bronnie Ware lists regretting “working to hard” as one of the top five regrets she continually heard from her dying patients.  She says “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality.” Not being there for other because they were too busy working would be a horrible regret to have when the final days come.  Yet for “every male patient” and a majority of female patients that Bronnie saw come through the hospice that was on their list.

balance-aktThis article is not to advocate just chucking your work ethic and blowing off work.  Rather it is to point out that though work is important, because the large majority of us as not independently wealthy, there ARE more important things, like your health, relationships and the quality of your accomplishments.

Taking these other things in to account does not give you permission to become a procrastinator, who neither accomplishes work nor focuses on other important aspects of life.  Instead it gives you permission to decide priorities and then focus on those priorities in turn.

It means if you want to make being a healthy and mentally focused person a priority then you can’t sacrifice sleep, healthy eating, and exercise for work.  In order to be the most effective, intelligent and complete version of who you are meant to be you must find balance between rest and work.  Take a vacation day just because.  Go take your spouse to lunch for no particular reason and spend an extra half hour just being with them.

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