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Monday, September 15, 2014

All Work and No Play

The Fast Company article I’ve chosen to link to today is timed badly for me. It’s titled, “Why You Need to Stop Bragging about How Busy You Are.” It is a story telling of journalist Brigid Schulte’s journey to writing a book on being overwhelmed…and learning how to deal with it. (See this for more information:

Frankly, after reading about her life and the myriad of performance challenges she faced, I’m still trying to figure out how she had time to write a book! It seems the busy people get more busy. Until the consequences set in.

I mentioned the timing of this article was bad for me because this week is “one of those weeks.” It starts early today with a meeting at 7:30. It will end this evening when I return home around 7:30 p.m. after the 40 mile commute. It is a week filled with the normal work schedule—plus some—that takes me into Thursday night when I have a monthly church leadership meeting. Friday morning, I have an early flight to Pittsburgh and speak to a men’s group four times before returning home on go back to work on Monday.

My good news is found in this being unusual. For some, this is the norm. And this is the reason Brigid writes about being overwhelmed.

She admits to having bought into a “culture of busy.” A status symbol has emerged from this kind of work environment. With it comes complaining about not having enough hours in the day. The work day hours keep getting longer in this culture.

Ms. Schulte has a case study from a Florida psychologist who researched what it took to be best at something. This pschologist traveled to Berlin where he studied time logs of successful musicians. He discovered the virtuosos practiced the hardest for no more than 90 minutes. They also took more naps than their less successful peers.

An important principle presented is that leisure time is when our brain works to solve important issues. I like leisure time. My brain is generally fond of it as well.

But the bigger point is to answer the question of how to change the culture of busyness. Ms. Schulte reports that Menlo Innovations has a most unusual policy in corporate America. Simply stated, “if you cannot figure out how to do your job in 40 hours, we will fire you.” Works for me!

Will the boss put the brakes on? That’s what creates the pressure for others to stay the long hours. But if leadership leads in giving people balance back in their lives, it can work.

The overwhelmed and overburdened worker has an almost impossible task to regenerate. In part, it’s because sleep does not come easy. The Preacher wrote, “All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:23 (NIV)

Did you get that? Meaningless. Let’s say it again. Meaningless. All that time, effort, and stress. And in the end…meaningless.

And there’s the classic maxim we learned from James Howell in his 1659 book Proverbs in English, Italian, French and Spanish, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Not only dull, but burned out.

If you find you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to punch something out. Like a time clock.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Listen each weekday, from 4-6 pm Central Time, to Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand. AM1160 in Chicagoland, AM1160 app, or online/podcast at

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