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Stop Working So Hard


Last week I ran a Strengths Challenge for people interested in exploring the things that they're good at that give them energy and the things they're good at that actually drain their energy. It was a lovely week with lots of enthusiasm, sharing and a few "light bulb" moments for participants.

When I run Challenges and Programmes, I always share my own profile to bring things to life for participants. As you can imagine, I'm quite au fait with my own strengths and how I use them which means ... that I can be complacent about them as well.

But last Friday, without really looking for one, I experienced my own light bulb moment: physician heal thyself.

Work Ethic

This is one of the 60 strengths measured by the Strengths Profile. Its definition is "You are very hard working, putting a lot of effort into what you do". For me, it's my number 1 Learned Behaviour. In fact, it's the world's most common Learned Behaviour in this profile. This means that we're really good at working hard but that it de-energises us (a lot) and we do it (a lot).

But what I've noticed when I talk about Work Ethic is that I gloss over it and laugh.

"Well, I started my career in the City in the 90s - we worked hard and played hard. It's a habit."

"I run my own business. You have to work hard."

Er ... what would I be saying to a client that was telling me this? Yes, I would be saying "what can you do differently to become less reliant on this de-energising behaviour?"

So, I am rising to the challenge to give some thought as to why we are still working so hard and what we can do about it!

Why are we working so hard?

Well, if you're of a certain age then the 80s / 90s "lunch is for wimps" working culture (thanks Wall Street) has a lot to answer for. And it still perpetuates in a lot of industries today. I know people who work in organisations where asking someone to do something at 6 pm that is going to take them 4 hours and you want it today is absolutely acceptable.

Technology has a lot to answer for as we are always "on" and always available. If your boss sends you an email or WhatsApp at 9 pm or on a Sunday, you answer it. You tell yourself that it's the right thing to do because it gets it out of your head and you can then go back to relaxing. But the fact is that work has encroached on your personal time. I can't tell you the amount of people who have told me that they answer emails on holiday because it's easier than coming back to a mountainous inbox (was that you?). Hmmmm.

And, of course, our old friend COVID-19 has made the situation worse in a lot of ways. Working from home has blurred our boundaries so that work can easily encroach on our personal time; we are scared of redundancy if our business is adversely impacted by a recession so we work extra hard to be invaluable; we are scared that our business revenues will drop and we'll have to try to find a job; we are scared that there are no other jobs out there (this is not true by the way).

In short, hard work is a habit that is very difficult to break as it's tied up with our sense of value and worth. It's also driven by our very compelling friend, fear.

What can we do?

I want to challenge you, as well as myself, to make some changes. Back to my question: "what can you do differently to become less reliant on this de-energising behaviour?". Please don't dismiss this question as I have so often done. We can all make small adjustments in the right direction. Do what I did and "take the question for a walk". I so often come up with answers when walking on my own and contemplating a good question.

Whilst the answers will be different for all of us, here are some areas that I think will commonly make a difference.

  • Reinforce those boundaries: keep your electronic devices away or switched off at certain times of day. I tend to leave my phone in another room after 7 pm BUT I do pop in and check it every now and again ... no excuses.
  • Check in with how many hours a day you are working. Is this reasonable? If you're regularly working long hours, are the expectations on your role unrealistic? What needs to change?
  • Get to know your own circadian rhythm. When are you most productive? Morning, afternoon, evening? Know when you do your best work and use this to get more productivity in fewer hours. The new flexibility in where we work has given us some extra freedom in when we work. Use it.
  • Take breaks. Even when you can't go anywhere because abroad is still not possible and everywhere in the UK is booked up, you still need to take a break. I recently wrote about how to intentionally rest on a staycation - you can reread it here.
  • Consider working part-time now or in the future. I have a plan to start working part-time in a few years so that I can study and be creative. But why not start experimenting now. For the rest of this year, I'm going to take one Friday off a month. This may sound piffling but it's a small change in the right direction. How much holiday do you have saved up? Could you do something similar?

I hope that's given you some ideas and I'm sure you can come up with some small changes that will make a big difference. I'd love to hear your intentions. Perhaps we can compare notes at the end of the year and see how we got on?

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