Burnout is real

Anytime I read a Statement like “Hustle Culture” and “Working till we make it”, I cringe. For every one of those statements you read, there is someone out there experiencing burnout because they have bought into the fiction that successful people are working late hours every day and surviving on four hours of sleep. That fiction has become so pervasive in some cultures that people are literally dropping dead from work-related exhaustion. Japan actually has a word for this phenomenon: Karoshi. While the Japanese work culture may represent an extreme case, many people around the world are experiencing work-related stress.

Karoshi
You know there’s a problem when they have a word for it
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Afraid to start

Procrastination is a problem we all have to deal with every day. It is like the hydra, the multi-headed creature from Greek mythology. Cut off one head and another sprouts in its stead, more ferocious and cunning than the one before it. One form that procrastination takes is fear: the fear to get started on a task. An individual may delay getting started on a task simply so they can think about all the ways it can go wrong. If you have found yourself doing this often, rest assured chances are you are chasing phantoms. Even if you fail, the outcome is rarely as bad as you imagine. How do you defeat that fear?

Emp
That mountain of paperwork isn’t going to take care of itself
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Tie tasks to long-term goals

To-do lists are a very useful tool for completing tasks. You wouldn’t catch me at work without one. However, if they have, one disadvantage, it is that they can encourage short-term thinking where the aim becomes completing as many low-value tasks as possible each day so you can have the satisfaction of crossing many items off your list. In order to be most effective, your to-do lists have to be tied to a larger system: Long-term goals.

to-do list
Wouldn’t be caught without one
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How to stay motivated when you’d rather be elsewhere

Self-motivation is the factor that separates the most successful from the mediocre. More than skill or talent, the ability to start a task and keep at it even when you’d rather not is often the key factor that determines those who reach the top of their field. However, knowing this fact is not enough. No one functions at 100% each day. We are all human and we all have limits on how much of an unpleasant task we can perform before our interest wanes. Unfortunately, important tasks tend to come with some degree of unpleasantness. They either take a long time, require careful application of skill, collaboration with others you’d rather avoid or a combination of all three. This can create conditions where a person would rather not start a task because they feel the effort required is not worth the initial reward.

What do you do when you find yourself showing up at work but not being able to push yourself to complete tasks? As it turns out, quite a lot.

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The lights are on (ii)

Last week, I wrote about a vexing problem for many knowledge workers: Disengagement from work. Sometimes, despite your most well-meaning efforts, you zone out from work because you have either failed to find value in what you do or the work no longer challenges you. If you currently find yourself in this scenario, all is not lost. There are some steps you can take to re-engage with what you do.

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The lights are on (i)

“Well I should have thought that being bored stiff for three quarters of the time was an excellent preparation for working life.”

Sir Humphrey Appleby (From Yes, Prime Minister)

No matter what line of work you are in, it is essential that you are able to see some value in what you do. Those who do not, quickly become disengaged. Disengaged workers aren’t productive. They come to work not because they want to but because they have to. They are more likely to show up and zone out. Someone I worked with once joked about team members who logged on to the weekly staff meeting, muted their mics and continued watching tv series. I find that a perfect working definition of a disengaged worker. For them, the weekly meeting had become something to be endured but not to be engaged with.

Broadly speaking, I’d say workers disengage because of two reasons:

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Work-life balance vs Work-life integration

For the longest time, personal productivity experts have advocated the achievement of work-life balance as the pinnacle of productivity. They argued that work should be treated as a separate space disconnected from personal life. The productive worker, they said, was one who completed their tasks for the day before closing time, clocked out and went home to spend time with their family. Work was not to be touched at home until they returned to the office the next day. This sharp separation of work and personal life was easier to achieve before the advent of the internet when workers were generally unreachable after office hours.

Stacked stones
Are your work and life in balance?
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What are you measuring: business or busyness?

In a famous scene from the 1999 Comedy, Office Space, Protagonist Peter Gibbons admits to two Management Consultants that in a given week, he only does about 15 minutes of actual work. It might be amusing to ponder why he hasn’t been fired but the truth is the average office worker can become quite skilled at appearing busy. If you have ever walked into a government office and were confronted by a Staff sitting behind a table covered with files, you probably have an idea what I mean. The files themselves might not have been touched in months but it gives the Staff an excuse to pull one of them and pretend to be reviewing some important detail anytime a visitor walks in.

Not busyness
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Work from home: yay or nay

The Pandemic changed the way we live and work. Companies made annual plans at the end of 2019 and ended up shelving them as governments around the world instituted lockdown policies that made the usual way of working impossible. Eventually, many had to explore new ways to deliver services. Work From Home (WFH) went from being a feel-good experiment that HR occasionally tried to a crucial element of organisational survival. Some industries fared better than others. Workers also responded differently to the new way of working. Some took to the new freedom like a fish to water. Others not so well.

There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
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One hour each day

If you were to google “Personal productivity” right now, a recurrent topic that would come up would be time management. We all have the same 24 hours a day yet not everyone gets the same returns from their 24 hours. This is because time management is actually a misnomer. You can’t manage time. It’s always there and it’s always flowing even if you aren’t doing anything. What you can manage are tasks and by extension, your priority.

Time never stops
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