I work too hard, and I’m guessing if you’re an entrepreneur, you do too.
Many of my coaching clients are the same and I help them with manage their time and set realistic goals. Sometimes it’s easier to help other people fix a problem than do it yourself. But I knew I had to change things in my own company when I noticed several of my staff showing deep workaholic tendencies.
I was having a production meeting with our fabulous copywriter, who works part time from South Africa. She’d just finished a massive project and was sounding very burned out. She wasn’t as sharp as usual and was having trouble stringing sentences together—she was even speaking much more quietly and slowly than usual. And she was conducting our call propped up in bed, not a good sign.
I nearly worked myself to death
I understand how you can love your job so much you overdo it. I worked so hard in my previous career in film that I had to have surgery due to overwork. Afterwards, I went straight out and worked twice as hard to cover the medical bills—typical workaholic behavior. Three years later I ended up right back in hospital for more surgery. I’d very nearly worked myself to death. Not once, but twice. You can’t call me a quick learner.
That second brush with mortality did mean I learned eventually and it’s why I now help people work on their passions sensibly, with breaks and most definitely not lying in the bed so tired they could weep.
So, I told my colleague to take the day off—two if needed. She was polite, but she resisted, just as I would have done when I was in full workaholic mode. How often I used to say, ‘No, no, it’s fine. I’ll just work through it.’ For me, that was a very bad plan.
Eventually, I brought out the big guns to get her to stop working. There is one thing that will always work with a workaholic. It’s not pretty, but if in doubt, press on guilt. Being bad value for money is the worst thing for a workaholic. It makes us feel awful. Pointless.
You cannot make good decisions when tired
So, in a cruel to be kind act, I pointed out that if she worked like this, so overtired that her brain was mush, she would produce terrible work. I paid her to write, and you can’t be creative this tired. Put bluntly, I did not want to waste my money on someone so tired they’re currently working from bed.
I pushed harder, with these awful words, ‘You must take time off so I get value for money.’ She agreed. I even got her to promise that if she woke up the next day feeling tired, then she’d take that day off as well—you know, purely for profit related reasons.
Two days later she thanked me for forcing her to take time off. She even used that classic phrase I’ve heard from so many reformed workaholics, ‘What was I thinking?’
You cannot make good decisions when you’re that tired. And as employers we cannot let our staff work that hard for us.
What’s the longer-term solution?
After all, you can’t regularly guilt your staff into working less. The culture in your company has to change.
Lead from the front
Your staff is taking their working cues from you. If you work in the same location as them, what indicators are you giving? Are you always there before they get in, and still there hours after they leave?
Stop it. Get your own hours under control. You’ll be sending a strong signal to your staff that overwork is not acceptable. Hire new people if need be. Don’t allow your company to become a place where overwork is expected. It’s not big, and it’s not clever and it’s what led me to the surgeon’s knife.
Look at your own hours—delegate. Hire more staff. Accept that overwork is a problem. Do not promote the people who work longest, promote those that get their work done most efficiently and go home and have a life.
Set a goal to work less
Try making a goal to work a 40-hour week. Now consider if you really mean it. Are you going to stick to it, or will you sneak off and put in a few extra hours here and there?
If so, try this coaching trick: Ask yourself your goal as a question.
What did I change so I only work a 40-hour week?
Clever, eh? It used the fact that we’re problem-solving creatures to bring solutions. However, this technique only works if you implement what your clever brain suggests. Whether it tells you to work from home one day a week – or delegate more, or get an assistant… the key is to actually do it.
Start right now!
Write down now the answers that come up when you read the question above. Act on one of them today.
- Liz Scully helps people find their perfect career and work from anywhere: which might explain why she works with people all over the world but lives in India for no other reason than she loves the place. Read more at www.blog.rethinkretreats.com
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