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  • Writer's picturePeter McKenzie

Working hard or hardly working?

For many years during my career, I thought that hard work was the recipe for success. It seemed to work for me at least as I worked extremely hard and as a result got promoted several times. I climbed the infamous corporate ladder.

Hard work and effort are extremely important without a doubt. However, as I have gotten older I have seen that continuously working hard actually reduces your ability to be successful.

In fact, beyond a certain point, it is counterproductive to work long hours if you want to be an effective leader.

Over the years I have slogged through some incredibly long weeks with late hours often deep into the weekend. This was sometimes recognized by my seniors. However, it often seemed to be just “part of the game”, a necessity, almost a badge of honor.

Research carried out by John Pencavel of Stanford University showed that when employees work over 50 hours a week, the value of what they contribute to their company falls sharply for their entire work week. People produce less quality work, make more mistakes and lose their ability to think creatively.

Over 55 hours and the results are even worse. Productivity falls off a cliff.

In other words, employers and their employees are better off if work hours are kept down to reasonable levels.

The answer is to work smarter, not harder.

Since I started coaching a few years back I have found many “successful” people faced the same problem that I had encountered myself. People advanced early in their careers by working hard but then later fell victim to their own strategy.

They often feel they need to keep running flat out just to stay in the same place. (A hamster wheel or a rat race comes to mind.)

To help get people out of the trap I start with one simple exercise. I ask them to:

1) Record everything they do during two weeks - noting the details in one-hour blocks.

2) For each activity rate from 1 to 10 how much value they had created for their company (or for themselves) by completing that task.

People are often shocked by how much of their time is spent on low-value tasks answering emails, sitting in non-productive meetings, or producing work with an almost null value.

This is what I refer to as non-work.

Most people discover that approximately 20% to 25% of work falls into high-value activity. The rest needs significant restructuring and elimination.

When people have the data in front of them, they realize that they need to change.

By applying the right strategy, people can increase their value and impact whilst working fewer hours. (I take great pleasure in coaching people who both recover personal time AND get more recognition at work for increased proficiency).

If you work long hours and feel that there is no escape, then believe me there is a way out. The first important step is to look at what you are doing every day.

The question is:

Are you working hard or hardly working?

What are your thoughts?

PS If you would like more information on how to tackle this problem, send me a message, and let’s talk.

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