The year was 2016. I was having a conversation with a mentor about work. He told me a story about someone who had died from overwork. The deceased’s company took out a half page ad for his obituary and right next to it, a full page ad for the new job opening. That image has never left me. Whoever you work for values your work but if you vanished today, they’d replace you. Despite this, many people in Nigeria refuse to take breaks from work.
Perhaps, we have a culture in Nigeria of glorifying those who work late into the night. Employers praise those who are always the first at their desks and the last to leave. If you work in such an organisation, the fear of being labelled “unserious” might stop you from taking your leave.
When you take on a new project, set a new goal or decide to learn a new skill, chances are you won’t have all the information you need. The good news is with the internet, you have access to a wealth of information. Armed with the right skills and a smartphone, you can do all the research you need while lying in bed. The bad news is the internet is a vast space. The simplest google search returns millions of results. Too much choice can be a bad thing.
90% of a project manager’s time is spent on communication. They have to make sure the right information reaches the right people at the right time. They also have to make sure the information is understood and acted upon. Without proper communication, projects can fall behind schedule or in worst case scenarios fail costing organisations loss of time and money. I cite this to illustrate the importance of communication in our lives. Even if you are not a project manager, your productivity will benefit from improving your communication skills.
Communication starts with being responsible. Both the sender and receiver of the message have a responsibility to ensure communication is effective. The sender has a responsibility to take the communication needs of the receiver into account. Sticking with the project management analogy, a good project manager finds out the preferred communication channel and frequency of updates required by all stakeholders. Personally, I’d rather read an email than receive a long call. If you pay attention, you will often find out what channel someone prefers. I know someone who insisted they only be called if it was an emergency. For all other purposes, he’d rather receive a text or email.
Have you ever taken an online course? They are one of the best things that happened in the digital era. It is now possible for someone to learn about any subject they can think of or listen to experts in any field from the comfort of their home. This had led to a proliferation of knowledge (and people with a dozen unfinished online courses). Recently, I began thinking. How many people hear about a great system or learn a useful skill from an online course but never applied it in their lives? They keep meaning to but simply never get started.
Over the years, work has become even more complex. Knowledge workers are expected to do a lot more than they used to. A hundred years ago, a person could train as an accountant, do the same job for 35 years and retire in peace. Now, the average job has so many responsibilities and “Other tasks assigned” that our minds have not been able to keep up. The result of that complexity is constant overwhelm. If you have felt like your job was becoming a never-ending series of tasks, you are probably right.
You have probably heard the expression “Work smarter, not harder.” In an earlier post, I pointed out how this statement can be bad advice. If you are like most people, you need to do both hard work and smart work to be productive. This is because productive work is work that meets three criteria:
One of the greatest lies you will ever hear from a motivational speaker is that “Winners never Quit.” According to some people, anyone who quits is forever doomed to join the inescapable path of losers. Such a person, they claim, is not suited for greatness. That’s a lie. Productive people know to leave a goal when it is no longer serving their interest.
In a perfect world, everyone would have a to-do list guiding their actions. The most productive people create to-do lists so they can identify their important tasks for the day and work on them. I always advocate never going through the day without a list. However, it is possible through well-meaning but misguided efforts to abuse the concept. If you have ever faced anxiety when you look at your to-do list in the morning, this post is for you.
The first time I decided to take an active interest in work-life balance was when I found out that the Japanese have a word for Death by overwork: Karoshi. Prior to that, the idea that someone could become so invested in their work to the point of neglecting other aspects of life until it literally kills them had never occurred to me. Over the years, I have come to realise that most people reach the point of overwork through good intentions.
What do you work on first thing in the morning? What are your team working on this week? How long did it take you to answer? How many items did you list? In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Yet these days it’s quite common to hear Managers talking about team priorities (in plural with emphasis) rather than admitting they have lost sight of the goalpost.