Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done. – Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, Rework
Does this situation sound familiar? When a friend asks how you’re doing, is your default answer some version of “busy”? Do you feel a touch of pride when “complaining” about the busyness of your schedule to a friend? Do you dream about an easier life, but feel victimized by a slave-driving boss or company culture? (Here’s a hint: You’re not a victim. You’ve merely said yes to the wrong things). In the U.S., we’re trained to think that successful people are busy. If our schedules aren’t chock-full, we’re unimportant. We run around like chickens with their heads cut off, as my great-grandmother used to say. People who take long vacations or even long lunch breaks are viewed as lazy or untrustworthy. We’ve all heard about the inevitable burnout that occurs when people work too much. But we quickly forget these cautionary tales and rationalize our habits, because we’re afraid of what our lives will look like if we slow down and pay attention. Deep down, many of us wonder if we’re wasting our time on things of little consequence. So we keep skittering along the surface at a feverish pace, avoiding the mirror of introspection.
1. Slow down. Someone once said “the trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” When we slow down, priorities become clear. I once asked Peleg what activities could/should be removed from my life. His response was that I was asking the wrong question. If you’re busier than you’d like to be, don’t try to curate your life. First, slow down. Focus on the here and now. Get present. Pay attention to where your energy is drawn, the good and the bad. Healthy priorities will naturally reveal themselves and your life will start to curate itself.
2. Stop trying to be a hero. Commit to a schedule you can sustain and tasks you can complete without killing yourself. No one will go into cardiac arrest if you turn down a project.
3. Go home. Leave the office by 6 pm, or earlier if possible. Have dinner with family or friends, relax and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel refreshed and focused when you arrive at work in the morning.
4. Minimize meetings. Sometimes meetings are wonderful and necessary, but more often than not they are straight-up time wasters. Respectfully ask coworkers or your boss if there might be a more efficient way to make decisions. Offer suggestions. Get creative.
5. Go dark. Switch your mobile phone to airplane mode. This will temporarily disable incoming calls (they’ll go straight to voicemail), GPS and internet access. For myself, this is hard. But we have to acknowledge that our communication addictions aren’t making us happy or productive. Create an atmosphere of minimal distractions. Stay offline unless you truly need to do some research. Do your important work first, and answer emails later. Be proactive, not reactive (I’m still working on this one). And for crying out loud, stay the hell away from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter unless you’re taking an intentional break. The comment your cousin made about a former coworker’s dog’s sweater vest can wait.
6. Leave your desk for lunch. Let’s be honest: eating lunch at your desk is just sad. Read a book, take a walk, visit a museum – anything to change your environment and unplug for a bit. This is a good time for airplane mode. Sometimes I’ll write a few lines of poetry, or just have a good long stare at nothing in particular. The change of scenery is refreshing, and I’m ready to tackle the afternoon’s work when I return to my desk.
7. Give up on multitasking. Others have said it, and I’ll throw my hat in the ring too: multitasking isn’t sexy. It’s inefficient. You might be able to go broad when juggling several tasks at once, but you can’t go deep. People who claim to be gifted multitaskers are lying, either to themselves or to you. Instead of spreading yourself thin, set aside large chunks of time to focus on one task at a time. Let coworkers know you’re unavailable. If they give you crap for it, who cares. They’ll stop when they see the results.
8. Say no. When deciding how to respond to a request, ask yourself if saying yes would be driven by love or fear. If the answer is the latter, politely say no and suggest an alternative. This is another opportunity to get creative.
Try this for a week. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you accomplish, and how much beautiful, free, slow time you have on your hands. Conversely, if you find that promoting smart work over hard work in your place of work is truly untenable, then it’s probably time for you to move on. Sometimes giving up is the bravest, kindest thing you can do. It might be the wake-up call that company needs.
From our experience, I can say that my team and I are more excited than ever to arrive at work each morning. The quality and variety of our design work has grown. We spend time with our families. We have lives. We close the shop at 2 on the first Friday of every month. We get things done on time. Our business is growing at a sustainable pace. We’re far from perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing.