Work-Life 3/30/2016

You Will Not Outwork Me

by Leslie Juvin-Acker

Avoid Being Outworked Without Being Overworked

Life isn’t a race. We’re not intentionally rushing to our graves. And so should we think about that when considering how we work. Instead of trying to get there first, be there faster, or do “it” better than our competitors, what if, instead, we listened to our natural pace and paid more attention to how we’re working instead of how much and how fast? How can we avoid burnout while assuring that we won’t be outworked?

My high school economics teacher, who looked oddly similar to The Simpsons character Ned Flanders shared a metaphorical story of the concept of Diminishing Marginal Utility (DMU).

He told the story like this:

One day, there was an ice cream man who sold ice cream to kids after school. The kids loved his brand of ice cream, pestering him for free popsicles every day, and so he came up with a proposal.

The ice cream man said, “If you can eat 100 popsicles without stopping, I’ll give them to you all for free - and for ever after. If you can’t then you’ll have to pay for every one of them you ate.”

Since it was after school, the kids were famished and knew they could beat the old man at his own game. They accepted his challenge and one by one, they greedily ate the popsicles. After the tenth popsicle, the kids enjoyed the popsicles they loved less and less, but they continued eating to spite the old man until they couldn’t any more.

Only one of the kids made it to 99 popsicles, but he couldn’t stand them anymore. He quit the challenge with just one frozen pop left. His belly ached and he no longer desired anymore popsicles. In fact, he was sick of looking at the popsicles! And with certain defeat, the kids handed over their money to the old man who satisfied with the outcome.

While counting their dollars the man asked the kids, “Do you have anything left to say?”

In spiteful resignation, all the kids could say was, “DM U!”

I have always remembered this clever story not just for its benefit as a business principle, but as a metaphor for burn out. For salaried and shift workers alike, burnout is a serious problem that affects productivity. There have been several studies on productivity and how, after certain amount of hours worked, an individual is no more productive than working a lesser amount of time.[1]

From my executive coaching experience, my clients work, on average, 60 hours per week. They travel away from home, on average, three months out of the year, and many of them show up at work or work from home (on an off day) six days per week. Surprisingly, the culprit is not the amount of time they work, it’s the intensity of stress at a sustained level that causes burnout. Emotional and physical burnout leads to resentment and resentment leads to resignation, thereby bringing productivity for both the employer and employee to a grinding halt.

So, when it comes to the “rat race”, it’s important to create a level of harmony between stressful periods and restful periods - both equally important factors for performance. A friend of mine is an Formula 1 tire engineer at Ferrari and I always think about the tires analogy when it comes to high performance professionals: After a certain amount of laps around the track, you’ll for need to make a pit stop and change tires. Ignore the signs of wear and tear and suffer the consequences of poor performance. Ignore them altogether and you’ll guarantee that you’ll careen out of the race.

Managing stress levels through recognizing what I call “Stress Signals” (physical and emotional signs that indicate high levels of stress) and counter balancing them with another term I call “Energizers” (activities to bring the body and mind into a relaxed, receptive state) balances the times of stress with those of rest. Athletes know that rest and relaxation serve an important part of physical performance and endurance and integrate this aspect of “work” into their strategy.

PRO-TIP: If you’re experiencing symptoms that indicate a stressful emotional or physical state, then it’s time to put the phone down and step away from the work. It’ll be there when you get back and it certainly doesn’t mean you love it any less. It just means that the work, just as much as you, won’t get any better if you keep forcing it.

Stopping a behavior, taking a break, or simply temporarily shifting attention doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped working - it’s that you’re “working” on yourself so the work you produce can be just as great. Sustained periods of stress and intense work schedules cause more than poor productivity, it degrades corporate culture through disintegrating rapport and relations. Growth is inevitable, it just happens when you least expect it. So, forcing high performance all of the time to “assure” growth happens is not only inutile but demonstrates a poor understanding of sustainability.

At what point do we get sick and tired of our work and say to ourselves, “I need a break!”? Do we force ourselves to keep going until burnout happens OR do we listen to our own intuition that says to pull back not just for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the work we do? And, if you get so stressed out about your work that you can’t take it anymore you’ll end up believing that you hate your work, failing to recognize the stress levels that got you to that point. And it’s at this point when we give up and when others start to outwork us. Don’t go there.

It’s not a race to get it all done. Take a pit stop and change your tires when you need to and for goodness sake, don’t believe any old man who tells you that you’ll get unlimited ice cream if you can eat them all without stopping. You’ll get sick of them and you’ll be the one who has to foot the bill.

Coach Leslie Juvin-Acker’s Questions To Ask Ourselves:

1.    At what point is my work effort no longer productive? Do I find myself reading e-mails and scrolling pages without a sense of purpose?

2.    When do I notice myself feeling stressed physically or emotionally about work? What strategies can I implement to reduce the stress levels and energize myself?

3.    Have I ever been burned out before? Did I end up hating my work? Did I recognize what stressful situation that caused me to hate or resent my work/colleagues?

4.    Have I quit a job or contemplated quitting a job because of the intensity of stress? What happened to my productivity before, during, and after those moments? What patterns do I notice?

5.    Do I include breaks and rest as a part of my performance strategy? What can I do to assure that this happens?