Don’t Be Too Helpful at Work

Agreeableness Can Go Too Far

Consider the case of Sherry, a discontented claims adjustor at an insurance firm. She is a star employee and an excellent team player. In a bid to be seen as obliging, Sherry always agrees to do everything she is asked to do by her supervisors and her colleagues. She ends up taking on a lot of extra work.

Sherry gets much praise for helping out as much as she can. However, she feels constantly overworked. This excessive dedication has left her with neither the time nor the energy for leisure or family. Her discontent materializes from the fact that her inability to say “no” is actually holding her back from some of her primary priorities.

Don't Be Too Helpful at Work

Too Much Congeniality Can Be Counterproductive

We live in an era in which self-interest is contemptible. People who aren’t generous and altruistic are branded as uncaring and greedy—even evil. At work, one mark of a high-performing employee is the ability to bring discretionary effort at work. This implies willingly dedicating energy and attention beyond the basic requirements of the role. Employees who are agreeable and helpful are much favored to those who are not so obliging.

Nonetheless, as a whole, there are dangers of being too helpful in a workplace. Employees like Sherry frequently find themselves overloaded with tasks that aren’t really part of their responsibility, tasks that are difficult to execute well, and tasks that that others don’t want to undertake because they are uninteresting or low-status in the organization. These supplementary tasks may stop obliging employees from doing their own work to the expected standard. Eventually, they get branded with humdrum work and may even be overlooked for higher-status work assignments or for promotion to senior roles.

If you’re one of those employees who is accommodating or strives to be seen as such, curtail your impulse to say “yes” to whatever people ask you to do. Don’t change abruptly from being a friendly, accommodating employee into an obstinate, unhelpful person.

Be judicious in undertaking extra work if it is only desirable in light of your priorities and the personal image you want to sustain. If the prospective task conflicts with your priorities, you are within your rights to say “no” (see my previous article on nice ways to do so.)

Idea for Impact: There is a Limit to the Results Being Nice Will Get You

While it is virtuous to think of others first at both work and home, devoting all of your time for others can stand in the way of caring for yourself. Your work-life balance can suffer.

Addressing your own needs first is not only incredibly beneficial for your well-being, but also vital to your ability to care for others. Be prudent. Stand up for yourself. Be mindful of your priorities. Be attentive to your own needs. Practice saying “no.” Learn to be assertive.

To Become Time-Conscious, Always Ask, “Is It a Priority?”

To Become Time-Conscious, Always Ask, 'Is It a Priority?'

As I wrote in my three-part series on time logging, time analyzing, and time budgeting, life is all about values and the relative priorities you attach to these values.

Priorities imply choice; you get to make a choice in almost everything you do. Every choice involves tradeoffs: when you choose to do something, it implies that you choose not do something else.

Before being sucked into doing anything, ask, “Is this the best use of my time?”

Another way to think about this is in terms of “opportunity cost.” Everything in life has an opportunity cost. Whenever you take up one opportunity, you forfeit another. When you choose to go to a movie with a friend, it means you aren’t going to the library to work on a research paper that’s due next week. When you choose to spend this month’s savings on new furniture, it means you can’t add to your retirement account. So, when making decisions about anything, keep opportunity costs in mind. Be aware of what you’re giving up.

One of the most important choices you make—often subconsciously—is how you use your time, which is your most important resource. Before doing anything, be aware of what you are giving up; decide whether the benefits are worth the time you’re investing in the task.

The Nagging “5-5-5” Questions

Is It a Priority Poor time management often has less to do with your packed schedule than with your indecisive, unorganized, or undisciplined mind. To improve your life, stop wasting time on things that don’t matter. Have a little voice in your head that constantly nags you by asking the following “5-5-5” questions:

  • Is this a priority?
  • Will this matter in 5 days?
  • Will this matter in 5 months?
  • Will this matter in 5 years?

The “5-5-5” questions will prevent you from being caught up in little tasks and trivialities that aren’t truly important.

Idea for Impact: Be time conscious; constantly ask yourself, “Is this time-effective?”

According to my world’s shortest course on time management, “There are countless things you can do. There are numerous things you want to do. There are several things others expect you to do. There are many things you think you are supposed to do. However, there are only a few things that you must do. Focus on those and avoid the rest.”

As I mentioned in my article “don’t say ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’,” don’t be vulnerable enough to be pulled along by forces that are beyond your control. Be accommodating when you can and assertive when you must. Be intentional about how you choose to use our time. Your life depends on it.

Don’t Say “Yes” When You Really Want to Say “No”

Don't Say 'Yes' When You Really Want to Say 'No'

Most People Never Learn to Say “No”

Consider the case of Anna, a manager in a large accounting firm. Anna is a great team player and readily pitches in when her team’s workload gets heavy, especially during the tax season. She covers for peers when they have other commitments—personal and professional—and often stays late. Anna is a people-pleaser. She’s also one of those people who can’t say “no”: she spends too much time and energy working on others’ priorities while setting aside her own personal and professional priorities.

Consider also the case of Chuck, a selfless project manager at an engineering business. He not only passively gives in to requests to train new engineers, but also accepts all of his peer-managers’ unwanted assignments. Chuck reluctantly accedes to whatever work his boss imposes even if the task has little relation to Chuck’s span of responsibilities.

The problem with Anna and Chuck is that they cave in easily. They cannot assert themselves, stick to their guns, and bring themselves to saying “no.” Their inability to utter the simple two-letter word when they must and can makes them feel like they have no control over their life. They feel burned out and are often on the fast track to an emotional meltdown.

Learning to Say “No” Can Get You Ahead

There are many reasons people struggle with saying “no.” Some feel bound by obligation or by fear of hurting others’ feelings. Some want to be liked or be seen as team players. Yet others believe they really can do it all. Whatever the reason, this inability to say “no” can have several personal consequences.

  • Not being able to say “no” leads people into doing things they don’t respect themselves for doing. Saying “yes” becomes wrong when they want to say “no” and it is in their best interest to say “no,” but instead they resign and say, “OK, I’ll do it.”
  • Not being able to say “no” distracts people from their priorities and tasks that they really want to get completed. They become so encumbered doing the things they don’t want to do that they have neither the time nor the energy for the things that are most important to them.
  • By feeling like an overcommitted, selfless martyr and allowing other people to exploit them continually, people who struggle to say “no” may build up resentment. Often, after a long stretch of saying “yes” and doing things they don’t want to do, they may end up losing their temper and bring about an inappropriate emotional outburst.

Nice Ways to Say 'No'

Nice Ways to Say “No”

The key to saying “no” is to say it firmly, succinctly, and without an overlong explanation. Here are two examples.

  • Imagine you’ve been working on the organizing committee for an employee recognition event. Even though you’ve put in more time than anyone else on the committee has, the committee’s chair comes to you with another request, “Mark, I’m really fortunate to have you on the organizing committee. Can I count on you to go collect the recognition plaques from the store?” You could say, “No, chief. I have already done more than my share. Perhaps you should give that job to someone who hasn’t done his/her share.”
  • Sometimes, you don’t need to give a “yes” or a “no” answer on the spot. Try to defer your answer when faced with a request that you cannot accept immediately by saying, “Give me some time to think about it” or “Let me get back to you in 15 minutes.” After weighing the pros and cons, give your answer and offer a reason if necessary. This way, even if the requester doesn’t get a “yes” from you, he/she appreciates knowing you’ve seriously considered the request.

Easy and Effective Ways to Say “No”

Here are more simple and direct ways to say “no” for you to practice.

  • “No. Let’s find another way to get it done.”
  • “No, I can’t do it on such short notice. I have something else scheduled for that time.”
  • “No, not now. I don’t feel like doing that today. I’d rather do something else.”
  • “No, I don’t know this topic well enough to do a decent job.”
  • “No, I don’t want to take on anything that I can’t fully commit to doing well.”
  • “No, I’d be happy to help in some smaller capacity. Make me a member of the committee, not the chair.”
  • “No, I have a personal policy about not working on Saturdays or not missing my evening workout.”
  • “No, it’s impossible for me to do that. Please try someone else.”
  • “No.” Sometimes the best way to say “no” is to simply and directly say “no.” Per the old adage, “Never apologize. Never explain.”

Idea for Impact: Don’t Say “Yes” When You Really Want to Say “No”

Have no regrets about having to say 'no' Have no regrets about having to say “no.” Don’t allow pangs of guilt to dictate your personal or professional life.

By asserting yourself in a decisive, direct, polite, but firm way, you can be selective about saying “yes” to your own needs and priorities. Practice saying “no.”

In an NPR This I Believe essay, Jessica Paris reflected, “sometimes saying ‘no’ is easier than saying ‘yes’ … when I need it, my strength to say ‘no’ is bolstered by knowing that every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ to something else.” In other words, almost every misplaced “yes” is really a “no” to yourself. So, don’t say “yes” when you really want to say “no.”

What Is the Point of Life, If Only to Be Forgotten?

While traveling around the magical Norwegian Fjords and contemplating life one day last summer, I recalled a young man’s story. He had spent many years in an Indian prison despite being acquitted because everyone had forgotten about him.

What Is the Point of Life

Forgotten

In 1988, Pratap Nayak was arrested at the age of 14 after getting caught in a violent clash between two rival families in his village in the state of Orissa. A corrupted lower court promptly sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Thanks to the Indian judicial system’s sluggishness, it took six years for a High Court to pronounce Nayak innocent. Unfortunately, nobody informed him or the prison officials about this judgment and his lawyer had died during the intervening years. Nayak’s family had assumed helplessness and lost touch with both him and with the lawyer.

Nayak remained in jail for eight more years after acquittal until a prison system auditor realized that Nayak wasn’t supposed to still be in prison. When he was finally freed at age 28, he was astonished and said, “no one bothered about me … not even my own family.”

When Nayak was finally reunited with his impoverished family of bamboo craftsmen, his father cried, “How shall I take care of him? We don’t get enough to eat ourselves. Had he completed his education, he would have had a good job by now. They ruined his life.”

“Life’s but a walking shadow … then is heard no more”

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 22–31) contains one of the most eloquent expressions of our lives’ cosmic insignificance:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The Meaning of Life

What Difference Does It Make What We Do with Our Lives?

Whenever I’m enjoying the splendor of the mountains and the waters—as I did in the Norwegian Fjords—and marvel at how these natural elements came to be millions of years ago, I meditate upon the fact that what we identify as our lifespan is but a tiny sliver in the grand timeline of the cosmos. We’re born, we live, we die, and then, as Shakespeare reminds us in Macbeth, we are “heard no more.”

In the grand scheme of things, everything is pointless, irrelevant, and ultimately insignificant. Our lives are impermanent and almost everything that most of us accomplish during our lives will someday become obsolete and be forgotten.

Yet, we rouse ourselves out of bed every day and engage in various activities that are all somehow tied to a purpose or mission—a mission we’ve either consciously created for ourselves or subconsciously accepted as an assignment from somebody. Central to this mission is that we hope to bring about more meaning to the lives of people around us.

This mission imbues us with a sense of purpose—invariably, it is a manifestation of a strong desire within ourselves to bring value, meaning, and joy for others and ultimately for ourselves as well. Even the prospect of smiling, complimenting, or expressing gratitude to another person feels good and adds to our own happiness because we know we’re adding more meaning to the other’s life.

The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

Idea for Impact: The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

The utmost measure of a life well-led is how you use your unique talents to do the most good you can. Enrich your life by trying to make a difference. Better yet, try to make the biggest difference you can. Perhaps if you’re fortunate enough—as the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Bill Gates were/are—your contribution can create ripple effects and create an enduring legacy that lasts long after you’re gone.

If you want to be remembered and appreciated for having contributed something to the world, strive to live in the service of others and make the largest possible positive difference you can. That’s the key to a life well-led.

Wife asks “When is it going to be time? Our time? My time?” and Google CFO chooses to retire

To supplement yesterday’s article, “When Can Your Loved One Become an Important Client?” on making time for ourselves and our loved ones, here’s a memo published yesterday by Google CFO Patrick Pichette announcing his retirement after a 30-year career that he deemed left him with too little time to pursue anything else.

Google CEO Larry Page called the memo “a most unconventional leaving notice … Well worth reading — it will warm your heart.”

Google CFO Patrick Pichette and wife atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

A trip to Africa in September 2014 was the genesis of Pichette’s choice to retire at age 52. One morning, Pichette and wife Tamar were watching the sunrise from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and appreciating the expanse of the Serengeti Park beneath. Then,

And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.

… then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.

A few weeks later, I was happy back at work, but could not shake away THE question: When is it time for us to just keep going? And so began a reflection on my/our life.

… I am completing this summer 25-30 years of nearly non-stop work (depending on how you wish to cut the data). And being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Third, this summer, Tamar and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.

If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing is for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.

Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths. But the short answer is simply that I could not find a good argument to tell Tamar we should wait any longer for us to grab our backpacks and hit the road – celebrate our last 25 years together by turning the page and enjoy a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty, and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.

… In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community. And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful. Carpe Diem.

Pichette has sounded affable when I’ve heard him lead recent Google corporate earnings calls. CEO Larry Page hasn’t been talking at events since 2013 because of vocal cord troubles; Pichette has been the one to answer for Google’s large spending and disappointing earnings numbers. He has persistently defended Google’s moonshot projects and speculative investments in many new products and acquisitions that haven’t made money for stockholders.

Pichette’s memo is perhaps the finest “spend more time with family” message ever written in announcing a retirement (or resignation.) Although it’s “carpe diem” for the immediate future, he’s left the door open for more opportunities “once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted.”

Idea for Impact: Get Your Priorities Right

Undeniably, Pichette’s decision to retire and my own ‘retirement’ for identical reasons (my decision came about on a trip to Alaska in March 2009) are outside the realm of possibility for 99% of people. Yet, this inspiring memo serves as a reminder to us to invest more time on our loved ones and on ourselves. We don’t need to constantly succumb to the demands of the world at the expense of the needs of our loved ones and our own deep-held aspirations.

When Can Your Loved One Become an Important Client? [Work-Life Balance]

A 1997 advertisement for AT&T Wireless speaks to one of the greatest challenges faced by working parents: balancing the responsibilities of their jobs with those of their families. This is especially difficult for parents of children under age 18.

The desire to balance work and family life is often stronger for women who tend to take on more of the responsibilities of housework and childcare.

The AT&T Wireless advertisement features a professional woman, three daughters, and an adolescent babysitter. The mother rushes to get herself ready to go to the office while her three daughters are preparing their own breakfasts. Here’s a condensed version of their conversation:

Oldest daughter: “Mom, why do you always have to go to work?”

Mom: “It’s called food, video, skates…”

Oldest girl: “Can we go to the beach?”

Mom: “Not today honey, I’ve got a meeting with a very important client.”

Four-year old daughter (sadly): “Mom, when can I be a client?”

Mom (after a moment of contemplation): “You have five minutes to get ready for the beach or I’m going without you.”

At the beach, the mom’s cell phone rings. She answers it while her middle daughter shouts out, “Hey everybody, it’s time for the meeting!”

Idea for Impact: Make Your Loved Ones Your Most Important Clients

Striking that delicate work-life balance has puzzled people for ages. Personally, I’m not fond of the term ‘work-life balance’ because it offers a false dichotomy and implies that one’s personal and professional lives are separable. I prefer the term ‘work-life choices.’

It’s not so much about balance as it is about understanding what you value and setting the right priorities. Learning to balance the demands of conflicting priorities is not simply a thought exercise.

As I’ve detailed and exemplified in my three-part course on time management (time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting,) successfully organizing your life hinges on three key habits.

  1. Decide your life’s values. Decide on what truly matters to you and why.
  2. Rank those values according to their respective priority levels. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once wrote in “Journals” (1838-1859,) “the cost of a thing it will be remembered as the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it.” Each decision you make involves tradeoffs: choosing to do one thing entails not choosing to do some other thing.
  3. Allocate your time, money, and other limited resources on what matters most to you. As I wrote in The World’s Shortest Course on Time Management, discern the few things that you must do; then, focus on those and avoid the rest.

Postscript: Remarks on the AT&T Wireless Advertisement as A Great Example of Emotional Advertising

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Field Guide for Effective Communication remarks, “Ads like this one show how the cell phone becomes a solution to a problem for working mothers. It captures an element that the cell phone is not only an instrument of freedom, not only an instrument of wealth creation, but also an instrument that makes it a little easier to have fairness in a world with a lot of stress.”
  • Robert Goldman, Professor of Sociology at Lewis & Clark College, notes, “A 1997 AT&T ad opens with scenes calculated to evoke the everydayness of home life, bringing forth the feel and texture of real—unreconstructed and un-retouched by the camera— interactions from that messy area we know as family life. The video of the ad exemplifies Hyperreal Encoding designed to make a case about the realness of the story being told, perhaps even making the case that it bears some resemblance to “your” own life. A woman scrambles to get herself ready to go to the office while her three girls are taking care of their own breakfasts. The oldest is preparing eggs for breakfast, while the baby plays with food containers from the open refrigerator door, and the four-year old disinterestedly spoons her cereal around her bowl, onto the table, and perhaps the floor.”

This Year, Be Selfish; Your Needs Belong to the Top

Your needs belong to the top

You’ve worked hard for your employer.

You’ve worked hard for your family.

You’ve worked hard for your friends.

You’ve worked hard even for your community.

When was the last time you worked hard FOR YOURSELF?

When was the last time you put in long hours on the things that bring you joy? How hard have you worked lately on your hobbies, on your meaningful enjoyment, or on your well-being? When was the last time you rewarded yourself?

What in the world became of YOUR deep-seated need for happiness?

You will become what you will settle for

Given your long to-do list, it’s easy to skip or neglect your own personal needs. When others place demands on your time, your first resort is to cut out the things that are most important to you.

With the arrival of each New Year or on each birthday, it will seem that the finger on the clock of time turns inescapably.

Life will have moved on and you’ll have missed it. Your conscious experience of being will consist of fulfilling your obligations to others.

When you broaden your perspective, you will realize that your life is dull and boring: you are persistently preparing yourself for the challenges ahead and getting ready to seize what the future might hold for you.

There’s always been some barrier to nurturing yourself. There’s always some uncompleted business, some debt to be paid back, something to prepare for, something to be done for others, somebody to be taken care of before your life—YOUR REAL LIFE—would begin.

The years will slip away in the pursuit of an illusion—an illusion that, one day, your real life will begin. Along the way, you will reconcile; you will surrender to the pressures of life. You will surrender your ambitions for what will be possible. You will let circumstances define what you will become. You will settle for something significantly less than what you’ve desired for yourself. Eventually, you will become what you will settle for.

Nurture Yourself

Think of ways you might nurture yourself

While it is virtuous to be selfless and attend to the needs of others, devoting too much time to others can become an impediment to your own happiness. Protect your own time and interests:

  • Listen to your true self and give yourself the care you need. Your experience of being must not consist of letting the little things get in the way of what you truly want out of life.
  • Examine if you yield instinctively to others’ demands or put others’ needs ahead of your own.
  • Consider constructing boundaries on your time. Do not become a victim of your own generosity.

Nurture yourself not only for yourself but also for the others whose lives you touch. Don’t think of self-care as an egocentric act—when you neglect yourself, become overwhelmed, or become melancholic, you can’t be a compassionate, engaged individual for your family, community, or workplace.

Think of ways you might nurture yourself. Don’t settle. Your needs belong to the top.

The World’s Shortest Course on Time Management

There are countless things you can do.

There are numerous things you want to do.

There are several things others expect you to do.

There are many things you think you are supposed to do.

However, there are only a few things that you must do. Focus on those and avoid the rest.

In depth: Take my three-part course on time management—time logging, time analysis, and time budgeting. See also my 10-minute “Dash” technique to overcome procrastination.

You Don’t Have to Be Chained to Your Desk to Succeed at Work

The 40-hour workweek is a bygone. The workday is longer, the pace of work is faster, and most projects tend to be open-ended. A successful corporate career now demands a high-level of performance for sustained periods. At what cost, though?

The “Activity is Productivity” Fallacy

Regrettably, companies still tend to measure an employee’s commitment by how many hours he is willing to put in. In the absence of a meaningful yardstick for the productivity of knowledge workers, companies continue to cling to the outdated equation that time worked equals output, a residue from the mindsets of the Industrial Age. Late nights and shorter weekends have become implied signs of employee loyalty.

Companies strive to get more from their “right-sized” staffs and have come to depend on cadres of hard-working professionals. Therefore, companies look upon employees willing to put in long hours as assets. They bestow swift promotions and pay big bucks to employees who are willing to take on demanding assignments, be available around the clock, and forego a healthy separation between work and personal time.

The unspoken imperative is that employees have to work longer hours to get ahead, and defiant employees who wish for a balanced life may hurt their careers.

Long work hours just do not help

Our Society Endorses Overwork

As a society, we respect overwork. We praise hardworking, career-driven individuals, even if they have lost their sense of work-life balance. Canadian psychologist Barbara Killinger asserts in her book, “Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts,” that workaholism is now talked about as a virtue.

Overwork has become a social problem in many countries. Surveys have revealed that Americans put in more hours of work each year than employees in other countries put and do not use a fourth of their allotted vacation. Working mothers take shorter maternity leaves than they used to. Entrepreneurs sacrifice way too much for relatively modest payoffs.

In Japan, overwork has led to some of the highest rates of work-related deaths and suicides in the developed world. This social problem is rooted in the samurai culture that judged the allegiance and personal fortitude of its warriors by their willingness to work long hours and sacrifice self-interests. In the 1960s, the Japanese even coined the term karoshi to describe death by overwork. Currently, the Japanese government is considering regulating work hours.

Chinese employers have recently faced a spate of suicides and ill health caused by overwork and deteriorating employee welfare. Most newsworthy of these episodes is the deaths of many migrant workers at a factory that contract-manufactures iPods and iPhones for Apple. The Mandarin term guolaosi refers to the destructive consequences of this intense work ethic.

Long Work Hours Just Don’t Help

The all-work, no-play mentality is serving neither employees nor their employers.

Employees spend fewer hours at home, preoccupy their minds with work even when they are at home, ignore the emotional needs of their families, and ultimately strain their relationships with loved ones. Overworked employees suffer from a lack of sleep. Their unceasing fatigue debilitates their immune systems and results in serious health problems. Often, they resort to excessive smoking or alcohol and substance abuse, develop poor eating habits, and ignore physical fitness.

Long hours and lesser vacations are not good for the bottom line of companies either. Longer hours do not add up to better work.

Overwork weighs down on organizational effectiveness in terms of productivity loss, inaccuracies, poor relationships at work, and plummeting employee engagement. Employers also face increased medical costs from the decline in the physical and emotional health of their employees.

Please Stop Working So Hard

Please Stop Working So Hard!

Look, there is nothing wrong with working hard and having a passion for what you do. I agree that putting in the extra effort, undertaking challenging projects, and pursuing career growth are all very gratifying. Nevertheless, do not ignore the needs of the other aspects of your life. Here are seven suggestions that can help you work hard, but not indulge in overwork.

  1. Pace yourself. Do not think of your job as an endurance contest. As a knowledge worker, for the most part, you are paid for your intellectual work. Ingenuity and creative aptitude tend to spring in intense bursts. Therefore, your capacity for intellectual work drops dramatically when you are weary and stressed-out. Plan your day on how much you target to achieve before you can take a break and rest.
  2. Understand and cling to the critical path. Recognize the big picture of everything you work on from the customer’s perspective. Then, concentrate on the essentials. Remember, there are several things you can do, many things people want you to do, but only a few that you must do. Focus on what you must do, not what you can. Prioritize relentlessly.
  3. If you are struggling with managing your time, follow my simple, three-step process (time logging, time analysis, time budgeting) to discover how you tend to spend time currently and how you could focus on the things that matter the most. Remember, effective time management is truly about managing priorities, not about managing time.
  4. Stay on top of your tasks. Identify areas of inefficiency. Ask for help, delegate, outsource, or invest in tools and technologies that can help you achieve more in less time.
  5. Limit the amount of time you spend in meetings. Screen the agenda of each meeting for items that can be resolved by e-mail or delegation or a prior meeting.
  6. Learn to set limits on your workweek. Don’t take your time for granted. Reflect on what you would truly like to achieve and make the right work-life choices. No one can make the choices for you. Remember that the true yardstick of your performance assessment is not the number of hours you put in, but your accomplishment in these hours.
  7. Set aside personal time. Plan and use your vacation time meaningfully. Have the discipline to leave your laptop, blackberry, and other electronic devices behind. Disconnect from work and enjoy your time with loved ones.

The Right Choices for a Successful Career & a Balanced Life

Work as many hours as you think you need to achieve your goals, realize your aspirations and be happy. Do not overwork and let your career progression become an obsession.

Anxious or stressed out? Try deep breathing for instant relief

Anxiety and stress are the body and mind’s natural responses to anything that jeopardizes your sense of balance. Your nervous system releases cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones that make your heart beat faster, tense up muscles, rise blood pressure, and sharpen the senses to respond to physical or symbolic threats. Your breath becomes faster and shallower.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing: An obvious antidote to stress and anxiety

Deep diaphragmatic breathing for instant relief from anxiety and stress When you feel nervous, frazzled, overwhelmed or worried about something, try the following exercise:

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable posture with your back straight.
  2. Release the tension in your face, jaw, neck, and shoulders.
  3. Softly close your eyes. Smile and relax. Breathe through your nose.
  4. Examine the inflow and outflow of air through your nostrils.
  5. Make a conscious effort to slow down the pace of your breath.
  6. Deepen your breathing by inhaling and exhaling more air. As you breathe deep into your lungs, flex your diaphragm, expand your belly, and feel the sensation of air filling up your lungs. Do not flex by flexing your chest. Exhale slowly.
  7. Repeat the inhale-slowly-exhale-slowly cycle five times.
  8. Reflect on how your mind is now more composed, stable and clear. Gently open your eyes.

Simple and powerful relaxation technique

Deep breathing from the diaphragm is easy to learn. It’s a technique you can practice anywhere, anytime to quickly get your anxiety in check.

Research has shown that deep breathing gets more oxygen into the brain and exercises the parts of the brain responsible for concentration and regulation of emotion. The brain regulates the release of stress hormones and reverses the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Your heart rate slows down and your muscles relax. Consequently, you can calm yourself down.

Self-Assessment Quiz and Recommended Reading