Overwork: Too much of a good thing

UpwardsSuccessfully developing a healthy obsession and shifting your life into top gear is wonderful both for yourself and for society, but it does have a potential downside…

The problem is this: While doing something stupid like constantly increasing your intake of McDonald’s “happy” meals will eventually make you fat and unhealthy and thereby create some forces opposing this behavior,  doing something smart like allowing yourself to become totally immersed in a creative subject area that really interests you will stimulate further interest, strengthen your self-esteem, bring you a nice pay raise and win you the respect of many people, thereby further reinforcing this trend. This is very cool except for one little problem: you will soon find yourself regularly working 70 or 80 hour weeks. And that is not sustainable.

burn-outOverwork has several rather serious consequences. Firstly, it can easily lead to something called burnout. This is when the brain is simply pressed beyond what it can take and just becomes totally useless, robbing you of any creativity and energy that you might have thought you had left. You simply cannot get any work done in this state and, if you are used to being highly productive, this is terribly frustrating. Someone who does not respect her own limits actually ends up working more and more inefficiently as she pushes her brain further and further past its healthy operating point. Thus, she is constantly working harder and producing less. That is very much not cool.

Secondly, if you push yourself far enough, it can actually make you physically ill. In the life expectancy calculator on the top right, overwork subtracts about three years from an average lifespan. OK, it’s not nearly as bad as smoking, but still; that’s more than a thousand good days down the drain. Also, if you are ill, you cannot work and therefore, by driving yourself past your limits, you will simply be reducing your productivity.

Thirdly, it can have a very negative effect on your family and social life. Strong social networks and regular social contact is fun, emotionally fulfilling, stimulating to your creativity and a source of an additional five years to your life. A strong and real (not Facebook) social network is also an excellent rainy day insurance policy. Friends and family can be of immeasurable value during hard times – both practically and emotionally.

tortoise and hareAll three of these factors have the potential to really hurt your productivity (value added per hour worked). This is the total opposite of what we want and can lead to a very demoralizing spiral of reducing output despite longer working hours (discussed further in the following post). Such a vicious cycle is a real motivation-killer and should be avoided at all costs by any individual with ambitions to really do something special in this world.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. From personal experience, I know that this is very hard to do, but if you get it right consistently, wonderful things can happen.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

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