I get really frustrated when I read productivity articles.
How to do more in your workday, how to hustle and work 14 hour days without burning out, the twelve apps you should use to automate your work life…
Here’s the backstory:
I’ve been in the workforce for 21 years now. I’ve managed teams since year three, and I’m now an executive at a growth-trajectory software company. If anyone knows about the “busy trap”, I do.
I’ve come close more than once to utterly burning myself out on work. (Mostly because my self-worth was far, far too tied to my professional accomplishments, but that’s for another post and my therapist’s notebook.)
Most people, when consulted on this affliction, would give me advice about how to do more in less time. Or how to delegate more. Or what apps to use or books to read or whatever system they use to get through tasks and email more efficiently.
Here’s the thing, though.
There is always more work to do.
As elementary as that sounds, it’s exactly that realization that helped me institute my one rule that has gotten me off prescription sleep aids**, helped me reduce my dosage of anxiety meds**, and all in all provided me with a better quality of life:
No work after 7pm on weekdays. No work on weekends that requires a computer.
It’s that simple.
And sure, I’ve broken it a couple of times for extenuating circumstances, urgent matters, or important projects.
But the point is that after-hours work is now the exception – the distant one – instead of the rule. And when it happens, I do what needs to be done, and then I put it down again.
But did my productivity suffer?
I didn’t do an empirical study, measuring how many tasks I completed before the change and after the change.
But I can tell you without a shred of doubt that, if anything, my productivity increased after the adjustment.
Because I slept. Because I arrived at Monday mornings refreshed, recharged, and ready to tackle work again. Because my brain had time to NOT think about challenges so I actually had a fresh perspective with which to tackle them the next time. Because I spent time with my kid and my dogs and my horse and reclaimed some life.
No one died. I didn’t miss deadlines. Our company didn’t go out of business.
In fact, they have a happier, more balanced, more productive employee.
I’ll admit I’m lucky. But.
While I work for and with some of the most driven people I know, they also understand how to prioritize. We have email conventions (like 911 in subject lines) that communicate when items are TRULY urgent (i.e. creating significant business risk or opportunity), and those are easy to filter with email rules.
My boss doesn’t work insane hours, either, and he doesn’t email me at all hours. That helps.
But even if you have those things happening, it’s up to you to draw boundaries because no one else will do it for you. I promise. You can take that from me, thanks to experience.
All the productivity tools in the world won’t do a thing if you’re just allowing the work to keep pouring in unchecked.
Unless you’re saving lives — and most of us aren’t — you have to draw the line and say “work can wait”.
And it really, truly can.
We don’t get merit badges on our gravestones lauding our productivity or our inbox zero or our slide deck design.
If you really want work-life, balance, you have to create it.
By doing something radical.
You have to do it by sometimes not working.
**remember, I’m not a doctor. This is a tale of what worked for me and my personal outcomes, and it was guided carefully by my doctors, but please let medication changes be the territory of YOUR doctor and YOU, and not my blog post. K?