The downside of working long hours

I was raised with a strong work ethic. Meaning I was taught to value working hard over playing. I took the lesson to heart.

Earlier in my career, I worked in a fast paced environment where there was always more to do than there was time to do it. I started my work day at 6:30 am because nobody was there to distract me and I could focus on getting work done. Once others showed up, my time was spent in meetings and answering questions so I couldn’t get much done. So I would also stay late to get more work done. There were several nights I worked straight through until 6 am the next morning and went home to sleep for a few hours and showered before going back in. I wore a badge of honor for working so hard. Silly me, because I was wrecking my productivity and my health.

There is a natural law that rest and recovery need to follow hard work. Professional athletes would never push themselves like that because they know their best performance comes from taking the time for rest and recovery after the hard work. Our brain requires that rest and recovery time also.

During that time I mentioned above I never slept more than 5 hours a night. I worked on every weekend, vacation, and holiday. I had no idea I was impacting my health until I started experiencing significant memory loss. My ability to focus noticeably declined. My motivation waned. I even picked up an auto immune disease; my immune system started attacking my thyroid. What little bit of energy I had came from slugging back coffee and diet soda all day long.

We are not robots. And even if we were, we would still require down time. We all know that a properly maintained car lasts longer than a car that is run without basic maintenance, like topping off the fluids, changing the oil, etc. For our best performance we need to allow our brain recovery time after working hard. Have you ever noticed how your best ideas come to you in the shower? That’s not an accident. Einstein’s breakthroughs came while laying on the grass looking up at the clouds.

And since we are people, and not robots, it’s not just about our work performance. If you are working too hard your quality of life drastically declines. You stop enjoying the work you once loved. You don’t have bandwidth for anything other than work and TV. You’re missing out on connecting with friends and family. Your hobbies are pushed aside. You are eating more junk food than you want to admit, to so your energy further declines. One day down the road, depleted and burnt out, we realize we’re miserable and can’t see how to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in.

As a comparison, look at super performers like Richard Branson. He runs over 300 companies. He starts his day with a swim. He takes time out from work to relax and have fun. He is wildly successful and it is obvious how much he is enjoying life. Or look at Warren Buffet. Still super sharp in his 70’s because he doesn’t over stress himself but balances hard work with recovery. Our brains typically tell us that once we are successful we can slow down and take time out for fun. This is the lie that will keep you from success and send you into burnout. Trust me as someone who ran head first into burnout when I tell you taking time for rest and recovery will drastically increase your performance and success.

Five things you can do to ward off burn out:

  1. Sleep at least 7 1/2 hours a night. Studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, we think we are fine but tests show our performance is hindered. Yes, you really do need it.
  2. Reduce your work hours each week until you are under 8 hours a day. The less hours you have to work, the more productive you will automatically become.
  3. Identify your favorite people to hang out with and take action to get together with someone on that list every week. Spend the time talking, participating in a hobby, or playing games. No TV, movies, or video games for best results.
  4. During your work day keep your brain sharp with 5 minute breather breaks. Spend 5 minutes letting go of all thoughts and focus on your breathing. Do this twice a day to perform a brain reset and keep you sharp.
  5. Start cleaning up your diet. Slowly reduce your caffeine content. You’ll have a lot more energy at night to do things you enjoy. Add more salads and fruit in to your diet and eat less bread/flour. Do a test and go a week without absolutely any wheat and see if you notice a huge boost in focus and energy.

If you take action I’d love to hear about your results. Send me an email telling me what you did and what results you saw.



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