Yes it may sound strange that someone who owns a business would not want to operate at 100% all the time but the simple fact is it just does not work and leads to poor decision making, stress and eventually chaos.
I say that while I set up my new business the Human Consultancy and find myself, ironically, working from the minute I wake until I realise that I need to sleep late at night. This is start up world and I just have to do what I need to do, have been there before and know how to manage my time, know that at the beginning especially it just takes constant hard graft. I try to exercise every day, often that is just a long fast walk in the country or just step outside for ten minutes. I also try and meditate every night, to clear my head and have no thoughts.
So yes there are days and sometimes weeks, maybe the odd month when we work flat out without a break and when work is busy then everyone pulls together but there comes a point in time when it no longer works, when we start to miss a beat and get derailed. Recognising when we need to work and when we need to rest is really fundamental to getting through each day productively. We all work differently and some need less rest than others, the best thing that we can do is 'listen to our bodies' and be more aware and in tune with ourselves, acting before it is too late. Understanding when the wheels are about to fall off and the nature of our changing moods. If this means asking your boss or telling your colleagues that you need some time out then I am sure they will prefer you to do that than watch you slowly implode. Don't be afraid to say that you have overdone it or are in danger of it. A good boss will know the signs that their team is being stretched too far and will help them to manage and minimise stress. I hope that they do so because they are human and are not just protecting their monthly figures.
Henry Ford in the mid 1920's realised that his workforce were just as productive working 8 hours day for five days a week than working the extra day and more hours, the factory output was the same if not better.
"In 2014 a study from the University of Toronto on lunch break patterns of office workers revealed the absence of a proper lunch break can actually lower productivity. John Trougakos, associate professor of Organizational Behavior & HR Management, who coauthored the
study, argues our brains have a limited pool of psychological energy"
The professor suggested that once that energy is depleted than that is it until we can recharge. Another study in 2014 showed that taking a 17 minute break every 52 minutes maintained maximum productivity. I am sure that there is plenty of other research and of course then there is Tim Ferriss and the four hour work week.
However, you do not need to read any of this research just take a look around your office at your co-workers and see how they are performing, how happy they are or how stressed they are. My very first employee billed around $1m a year in revenue, I reckon she could do this on about 3-4 hours a day, why because she was excellent at what she did and she was incredibly efficient. Frankly she could have gone home at lunchtime and still beaten everyone else to it. Why you may well ask did I not push her to bill $2m - well I recognised that she was performing at her optimum efficiency and she was very happy doing that. She had billed more than she ever had before and was taking on added responsibility. If I pushed her she may have made a little more but at the cost of her overall enjoyment at working. I was more interested in a happy and engaged team and with that comes peak productivity which in turn means profit and success. You may think differently but it worked for me.
Similarly if you treat your employee and colleagues as adults you will get more trust and respect. That means flexible working, allowing people to work from home when they need to, allowing colleagues to work out their routine for themselves meaning that they arrive and leaving at different times of the day, taking long breaks to go to the gym at whatever time of the day suited them. They understand that they need to get their job done and they worked around the hours that were needed to do that. International businesses can operate 24/7 as ours did but everyone knew that if you arrived at 9 and left at 5 then you would not be very successful. So you worked around that taking calls at the weekend, answering emails well into the night but only if you could and you did not have to sit in an office to do that, you could be anywhere. If you were having family time then that came first. I even closed a deal on Christmas day because my client was in Dubai, you may think that odd but it took all of 15 minutes. If you treat your fellow humans with respect they will treat you the same way, a job no longer becomes a job it becomes part of their life that they take pride in.
A few years ago I was skilling up in a new area of business, facebook marketing and creating funnels for content marketing. I went back to Australia from Bali and worked for 7 weeks without my family around me. My intention was to work every hour of the day and do that seven days a week. I must have watched 70 hours of webinars alone. What I realised after week 2 was that if I worked for 15 hours a day without a break that I was increasingly unproductive the next day, I could not absorb new information. I could maintain that for maybe three days then needed to work perhaps 11-12 hours taking breaks throughout the day. Also to take one day off at the weekend or perhaps two half days, and reduce the intensity.
That is just me but I have witnessed it with my own colleagues and employees. If we don't take a break we slow down rapidly and as Professor Trougakos says we deplete our energy, we become unproductive and worse we undo the work that we have done by making mistakes and poor decisions.
I have been lucky enough to work in a few industries but the same applies to each. In the world of recruitment people are driven by earning commissions and that can lead to people working as hard and as long as possible to make those few extra dollars, and they are not just dollars but hundreds of thousands potentially. What actually happens is that the stress kicks in pretty quickly and if you have no mechanism for dealing with it, such as taking a break, walking around the block, going to the gym, getting a coffee or even going home early then you start to drop the ball. When that happens the whole team is affected by the disruption, the emotional energy is discharged around everyone else. The impact is not just one one person's productivity but on everyone.
There will always be times when work is more intense and we need to put in the extra hours but we simply cannot maintain that for long periods, it is unhealthy physically, emotionally and mentally and living life is far more important. When people say they want to be stretched and challenged that for me is not about how many hours we put in each day but how we spend them. Then when we leave work and go home we can enjoy our family and friends and maybe even learning some new skills when we have the energy to do so. You then come back to work ready for the next day and perform at the very top of your game.
So when you see your colleagues chasing those few extra deals or working that little bit harder and you see that it is putting them close to or over the edge, talk to them, support them and tell that it is ok to dial back the intensity, to take a break and re-focus their energy and attention on what they have been doing well already. That is called being human and so lets treat each other as humans.
Ed Andrew lives in England and is the founder of the Human Consultancy. He is a former lawyer and has been a headhunter for over 20 years helping lawyers manage their careers around the world. He has lived and worked in England, Australia, India and Indonesia. He also mentors people of all ages and backgrounds and consults to businesses across industry.
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