Are You Working Too Hard?

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The first words of the title track of the Beatles’ first movie are, “It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog.” Does that sound like your life? If so, I’d like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, you’re working harder than you have to. Please note: I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t work hard. As I’ve pointed out before, Paul McCartney once said, “The reason we were twice as good as anyone else is because we worked twice as hard as anyone else.” (Note to younger readers: Paul McCartney was one of the Beatles.) What I am suggesting is that there is a difference between working hard and banging your head against a wall. Would you like an example? Oh goody, because I have one that you’re not going to believe.

I spend a lot of time at Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport, and way out by the N gates there’s a particularly long escalator. One morning not too long ago I was flying out for a speaking engagement and subsequently found myself riding the N-gate “up” escalator. About halfway up, I heard the sound of somebody who was clearly out of breath. I looked over to my left, and there was a woman struggling up the stairs with two large suitcases. I was wondering, “Why didn’t she just take the escalator—it’s right beside her?” when I heard her say—and I swear this is true—”Oh, I got on the wrong one.” I looked a little closer, and sure enough, she was trying to climb up the “down” escalator! Keep in mind, this is a long escalator, and she was halfway up! How much unnecessary effort was she putting into this?! I kept turning around to watch her, and eventually she stopped struggling, let the escalator take her back down, and then she got on the “up” escalator. I don’t think it’s because the light bulb finally went off in her head; I think she was just exhausted. (Of course, all of this begs the question, “Just exactly how do you get on the wrong escalator?” I mean, wouldn’t the very first step give you a clue?)

This woman was working way harder than she had to! Now, granted, this is an extreme example, and you probably have more active brain cells than she apparently did, but that doesn’t mean you’re not expending energy needlessly. For example, are you:

  • spending hours on work that you could, or should, be outsourcing to others (e.g., bookkeeping, graphic design, social networking, etc.)?
  • struggling with aging technology because you refuse to upgrade or to learn the new skills that would simplify your life and/or work?
  • toiling away at a job that you find unfulfilling, or work that you’re not passionate about?

The point is, at any given time we only have a finite amount of energy. So the question is, how are you going to allocate that energy? I’ve got no problem with you putting in an occasional 10, 12, or 16 hour day if you’re using that time, and that energy, wisely and efficiently. I know from experience that when you’re in “the zone” time can fly by, and that’s great. It’s when it crawls interminably that you begin to feel like our unfortunate friend on the escalator.

These are competitive times, and you do have to work hard to stay ahead. Don’t make it even harder for yourself by trying to climb up the “down” escalator!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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