How to avoid burnout
Mick Timpson - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A recent piece in the Guardian pointed out that the new status symbol was not how much you spent but how long you worked. Appearing to have everything, ‘conspicuous consumption’, is so yesterday. Now it’s all about ‘conspicuous productivity’. The argument goes that ‘working’ inhumanly long hours made you look good. It made you seem important, in fact vital, to the smooth operation of the modern world. The article states:

"Apple CEO Tim Cook told Time that he begins his day at 3.45am. 
General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt told Fortune that he has worked 100-hour workweeks for 24 years. 
Not to be outdone, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told Bloomberg News that she used to work 130-hour workweeks."

And yes, they are very rich. But for what purpose? These individuals think working longer than they need to, earning more than they can spend, makes up for the fact that everyone else is working long hours too, but for much, much less. 

Working long hours is not a status symbol 

All status symbols are designed to make you, and others, unhappy but this development is very dangerous. Tied up in all of this is a presumption that working until everything else in your life is trampled over shows, commitment, attitude and get up and go. It’s forcing through against all the odds ‘look at me, I'm thriving on stress and exhaustion!’ The opposite is true; don't ever be fooled. This is not thriving at work, this is dying of work. And stress, anxiety, depression or burnout, which are the real outputs of conspicuous productivity - not status. Early on in my career we young architects were told that it was all about the hours, because otherwise how you could demonstrate the sort of love and commitment to your art, which we were told demanded all your energy? I believed all of that. It was wrong! Later on as a business owner I became suspicious of people who worked long hours, as it never really improved the quality of their work or productivity. Or indeed the most important things for me -  their creativity, energy and happiness. Sure we had deadlines to meet, sometimes, but if the task couldn’t be done in the time allocated, something was wrong. 

Getting it right first time has always been key to me, but it takes a particular mindset - constant work. Working to promote some received idea of what you think busy and committed looks like rather than actually doing what needs doing is exhausting and stressful. These days work (or what we think is work) is constant. We are expected to work from everywhere, anytime. You check and respond to emails all night. When you wake up in the morning you carry on with your emails. And it’s painful and stressful. Click after click you are being pulled further away from your own resources of insight, creativity, resilience and empowerment. Its never-ending; it’s like you are busy but in reality you are just distracted and off-balance. You're exhausted and you burnout. 

Six things you can do to avoid burnout

  1. (1) Work smart, not hard. This might sound like an HR cliche but it's true. Pay attention to what you are doing in that moment and marshall all of your energy into that moment and not to what you think the outcome should be. Work this way is being smart and invariably, the result exceeds expectations.

  2. (2) Cultivate frequent moments of stillness. Try and organise moments of being alone throughout the day. Learn meditation to help you switch on to what is really happening, not what you have been told is happening. This will connect you to what is really important - YOU!

  3. (3) You need sleep. Don't believe you can get by with limited sleep. Sleep is not an inconvenience. Like death and taxes, it's the only thing we are certain of.

  4. (4) Switch off. Ironically, switching off your connectivity switches on your connection to life. Put the smartphone down. Don’t answer it after 6.00pm and never, ever put it by your bedside at night.

  5. (5) Take charge. 

  6. (6) And finally the big one. Decide on the sort of life you really want. The one that is really waiting for you, not the one your internet provider or boss thinks you should have. Define what real success looks like for you. When you stop and really let go and focus in, you will be surprised - it won't be more hours in the office.

  7. If you do experience burnout, use it to make changes. Don’t work through it. Listen to the message your mind/body is telling you. Empower your inner architect and start redesigning

My view is that people who are working every hour, conspicuously, are afraid. They work in fear. They don't want to listen or see what is really there. For them working a 120-hour week is an effective (short-term, high-risk) distraction. Is that you too? Are you heading for burnout? 

If it is sign up to our #makehappywork modern meditation programmes and learn to listen in to what Steven Spielberg calls the whisper - your call to make happy work that will often sneak up on you from behind. Then you will realise. To thrive and to be successful, you don't need to put in the hours.  



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