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Why Working Long, Hard Hours Gets You Behind (?)

I was at a dinner party the other day and observed the following fascinating exchange (names have been changed to protect the innocent :) ):

Cheryl is enjoying her wine and poking away at her Blackberry when she notices her acquantance Jude had just arrived. Cheryl gets up and walks over to Jude. They greet eachother with a hug’s and hello’s. Jude asks, “Hey! How have you been?”

Cheryl proudly replies, “I’m stressed out! I’ve been putting in 10 hour days to finish a very important project at work and I can barely sleep at night. Its all I can think about.”

Jude, appearing to feel inferior, retorts, “That sounds great! But, I wish I had your schedule. I’ve been working 10 hour days and most weekends recently!”

Cheryl gets a bit defensive and quickly shoots back with, “Well, I’d trade my weekends to get rid of these headaches. At least you don’t get migranes twice a week! But it’s worth it. I bought a new boat, its a beautiful 40 footer. I’m just not sure when I’ll be able to find the time to use it!”

At that point I had lost interest and stopped listening. I’m pretty sure the pissing match continued for a while longer…

High Stress = Success!

I’d wager many of you have observed, or even participated in, an exchange simlar to this one. While stress is an inescapable part of life, I find it sad that there are people like Jude and Cheryl who brag about it like its a badge of honor. Stress has become another measuring stick for how successful they’ve become.

Convential wisdom says that in this fast-paced, digital world, we cannot disconnect from work… Especially in this economy! We must sacrifice our lives, our relationships, our hobbies and everything else that bears any real importance in life so we can sell more widgets for the company, get a promotion, get a bigger house, buy more cars, a bigger TV, etc.

For the majority of working adults, the biggest source of stress comes from the inability to disconnect from work… We all seem to struggle to find the elusive beast we call “work/life balance.” Of course at the end of a long, hard week we know its worth it because working those long, hard hours is how we get ahead, right?


A recent Freakonomic-esque study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests this conventional wisdom is quite wrong. I don’t actually follow such prestigous publications, but I’m fortunate that my good friend and business partner, Dr. Ken Nowack, does. In a recent post on our blog for talent development professionals, Results vs Activities, he shares:

In a new study using self-ratings, manager and peer ratings of 9,627 leaders in 33 countries found that managers who were rated higher in work-life balance were rated higher in career advancement potential than were workaholics.

I highly recommend you check out the entire post.

It’s important to acknowledge that the study did not tell us whethor or not those who had higher potential to advance actually did. I do know from other studies we’ve done that your managers and peers are generally looking through different lenses when they are rating others. Often peers are looking at leadership potential (and often they are pretty darn accurate). Managers generally rate on how well someone delivers bottom-line results. Both of these factors contribute greatly to your career advancement potential, which makes this study all the more important.

In addition to workaholics being less likely to advance, it is commonly known that they will experience more of the standard stress-related health effects, such as increased blood pressure, stomach issues, gray hairs, skin issues and sexual disfunction.

Manage Your Time, Work Less & Get Ahead?

As most readers know from first hand experience, practicing some sort of productivity system, (GTD, ZTD, 7 Habits, etc.) tends to very quickly result in increased productivity, which allows your to get more done in less time, which of course allows you to increase your work/life balance — provided you can downplay your competence just enough so that your boss doesn’t “reward’ you with extra work.

My interpretation of other stress & health info that I’ve been exposed to suggests that combining time management techniques like GTD with other work/life balance management techniques (to be discussed in later posts) create magical & multiplicative increases to your overall productivity.

So for those of you who practice productivity, keep it up… And Keep ignoring the dirty looks from your co-workers as you leave the office every day at 5:00 sharp. After all, they’ll probably be working for you one day.

This post represents the first of many in a new Stress & Health category here at The Cranking Widgets Blog. There is just too much data available linking stress & health management to productivity to ignore it as a very important factor in getting things done, living a better life and reaching your goals.

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