Overwork & Achievement

Infinite To-Do Lists, Overwork and Achievement: Speaking of Motivation

By Barry Maher

“For me, it wasn’t a matter of not living the life I thought I should live,” says Eleanor Adams, president of an international consulting firm. “I had no life. My days were filled with a to-do list the size of the Manhattan phone directory. I was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion. Then I finally realized that the purpose of my job is not perpetual motion without ever having a moment to think. The purpose of my job is to achieve results.”

The last time we talked, she said, “The better I get at what I do, the less I work.”

Peter Drucker wrote that while being efficient means doing things right, being effective means doing the right things. But how many of us feel like the industrial designer who once explained to me, “We’re far too busy around here to ever get anything done.”

Hard work is productive. Overwork usually isn’t.  That’s why we call it, “overwork.”

Organizational development expert, Thomas Quick, tells a story about a young man who was promoted to head the shipping department and had to work with an older and more experienced crew. After a few days, he cut a deal with them: if he didn’t insist that they return to work immediately when their break ended, they would work harder.

The crew’s productivity increased by 20 percent. Then the new supervisor’s boss happened to catch them sitting around a few minutes after the official end of their break. Summoning the young man into his office, he angrily insisted that rules were rules and enforcing those rules was what supervision was all about. He didn’t want to hear any reasons for granting exceptions.

So the rules were enforced. And production dropped back to where it had been. The men lost, the supervisor lost and the corporation lost.

Tactic: Focus on results not activity. Whenever possible, get your boss to do the same.

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