In a world which applauds workaholics, I dare to admit that I hope to never become one. Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ve never worked extra hours at times when I’ve had to deliver results. I’m as guilty as can be. Like the rest of us, I’ve also been forced by external and at times self-created deadlines to spend weekends working on projects and tasks that I wish I had finished during the week. And let’s be real, I’m probably going to do this again. The thing is, even though I’ve done it and predict my habit to continue I deep down know that working those extra hours over a longer period of time actually decreases my efficiency. I therefore have taken a vow to strive towards creating a work week that is much more similar to Tim Ferris’. This is for sure much easier said than done and whether I can realize it I have absolutely no clue about, but I will give it a try…
“You should expect to work extra hours. Are you OK with that?” Why is it that every potential employer that I’ve been interviewed by lately feels the need to drop this sentence? It seems a bit absurd that I’m already being asked to stay at the office late considering I’m not even hired yet.
When this happen I urge to respond with a: “no, not really” but always end up with the more political correct: “I of course stay in till I’m done with my work for the day”.
But why is it that (some) employers tend to stress working hours instead of other metrics? To me it makes much more sense to emphasize productivity or quality of work. And don’t get me wrong. I am by no means against working extra hours when there is an actual need for it. But I genuinely believe that consistent overwork is more of a symbol to your colleagues than it is a valid measurement of whether you are doing great work or not. Therefore I hope to never become a workaholic. I would rather be known for doing great work, or at least a striver of great work, instead of being known as the one always stuck at the office.
Whether we admit to it or not, we young professionals are usually met with lots of skepticism in the beginning of our careers. And it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, how fancy an education you have or how great of a grade point average you’ve attained. You still have to prove yourself to seniors. Most of the time for valid reasons.
For some, this process can be slightly cruel as some industries and companies have a highly hierarchal culture. In cases like this many resort to an I-need-to-be-visible-at-the-office-strategy. Therefore many young professionals end up working extra hours. Even at times when there is absolutely no need for it. I’ve heard of organizations where it is actually a rule of thumb that juniors never leave before seniors. But is this really an effective practice?
There’s a large body of research out there which suggests that our brains can only deal with solving complex tasks for a limited time during the day. After you’ve used up this capacity you need to refuel your mental focus by doing something completely different which requires minimal mental effort. If not, you will end up doing lots of mistakes and are prone to making bad decisions as your brain is shut down for the day. This is where you (in my opinion) should go home so you can come back re-energized the day after, instead of staying at the office doing useless tasks that adds no value.
So why do I want a four hour work week? Besides research which suggests that our brains have limited capacity for dealing with complex tasks, I know that I am the most efficient when I don’t work extra hours. Moreover, I produce my best work when I avoid the many distractions of an office setting comprising of engaging in tasks which adds absolutely no value other than filling up the day. I’ve always had these thoughts but truly got inspired after reading the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris and Re-work by Fried and Hansson as they are excellent examples of individuals who have successfully implemented a lean approach to work.
It is posible to implement it. We just have to re-think work. And how cool could it be? To be exceptionally great at what you do whilst spending fewer hours at the office and instead have more time to refuel your mental energy by engaging in non-work related activities? Sounds way too good to me! And while I absolutely don’t know how many hours are necessary for you to be efficient, I know that for me more hours do not equal higher quality work. Eight hours a day is more than enough and at times when it isn’t, there is always another day.
What are your thoughts on my attitude towards overwork? I would love to hear your perspective as well.
Work and progress,