Tag Archives: overwork

Overwork: Preventing burnout

Rules-of-ProductivityAs discussed in the previous post, overwork can easily lock you into a vicious cycle leading to complete burnout (even if it is related to a subject that really inspires you). Burnout is a terribly frustrating experience, especially if you are used to being highly productive. It destroys inspiration and natural interest and, if not properly dealt with, can lead to months of grinding below-par productivity. It is certainly to be avoided at any cost.

This post will therefore discuss a few ways in which you can build an environment in which burnout is automatically prevented. As with all other guidelines given on this blog, the central principle is constructing a micro-environment where doing the right thing happens automatically and naturally.

The first and most important guideline is to set up a range of relaxing activities which you have no choice other than to attend. Regular sports practices, music practices, poker evenings or family outings fall in this category. These are typical events which you might resist going to at first, but, when you are actually there, you suddenly become very glad that you actually went. A fixed schedule of such activities will give your mind a welcome (and automatically enforced) break from your primary occupation and will definitely have a significant positive influence on your productivity (and your general life satisfaction).

Secondly, it really helps to ensure that your immediate working environment contains some healthy distractions such as a musical instrument, a pair of free-weights or just a fairly quiet walking path where you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air. Whenever you feel like your focus is waning, it can be very helpful to take a break and make use of one of these distractions. And no, Facebook or YouTube don’t count as healthy distractions.

Finally, it is very helpful to ensure that your environment contains some opportunities for quiet time whenever your mind becomes overburdened. Just a few minutes on a quiet rooftop, in a quality massage chair or following a slow yoga routine can really provide a very welcome rebalancing of your internal chemistry after a period of sustained effort. Taking a few minutes to just decouple and take a step back can also lead to valuable productivity-boosting insights. 

I again have to emphasize that it is vital to build these guidelines into your environment. If you just make a new-year’s resolution that you will maintain a better work-life balance, but leave your environment unchanged, I can guarantee you that nothing will come of it. Invest the little bit of effort necessary to set up this intelligent micro-environment. It is definitely worth it.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

Overwork: The vicious cycle

work-vs-inspirationThe vicious cycle of overwork is one of the biggest enemies of highly productive people. It goes like this: the more overworked you become, the less productive you become, the longer hours you feel you have to work, the more overworked you become. This is frustrating, demoralizing and unhealthy and can kill your healthy obsession before you ever get the chance to really produce something of note.

Breaking the vicious cycle of overwork is quite simple really (in theory): You simply have to realize that there exists an optimum number of hours you can work in a given week, month or year before your productivity (and various other areas in life) start to suffer. The less simple part is finding out where that number lies and sticking to it in daily life.

One thing that really helps in this regard is to actually work all the time you work. It is amazing how many people think that working and going to work is exactly the same thing. It’s not. Two people can be at the office for exactly the same number of hours, but have vastly different outputs, simply because the one allows himself to be constantly distracted by everything imaginable, while the other puts his head down, really gets into the job and then allows the brain’s natural interest in the subject to drive him forward, forgetting about time, forgetting about eating and never even thinking about the myriad of distractions that plague the working man of today.

If you really have found your healthy obsession, it will take only a few minutes of conscious focus to kick-start a long period of near-optimal productivity. In fact, this is one of the most natural tests of a healthy obsession. If you repeatedly fail to get your brain to naturally focus on the subject matter at hand, you really should carefully consider whether this really is your calling. And remember; you always have the option of shifting down instead of shifting up.

If you have truly found your healthy obsession, however, one of the best skills you can develop is the skill of recognizing the vicious cycle of overwork already at an early stage and taking corrective action regardless of how difficult it might be. Ignoring these warning signals can bring only grief and frustration. The next post will look at some strategies for preventing the vicious cycle of overwork and get out quick if it starts to suck you in.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control

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

Taking mental control to the top level

There is this old saying: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” Earning the title of the busiest person – the person whose time is constantly in high demand – is not easy, especially in the tough economic times we face today. Doing this requires a sustainable shift up in performance as described in the previous section of this mental control category, but even this is not quite enough. The following few posts will therefore discuss the last few details necessary for complete mental control.

OverwhelmIn particular,  two primary “busy person” challenges will be discussed in quite some detail over the following posts: overwork and overwhelm. If not managed well, these two factors can completely ruin potentially great contributions to society by sapping energy, enthusiasm and focus. However, if you manage to set up your working environment in such a way that you can capitalize on the most lucrative opportunities coming your way without burning out or getting lost in a marsh of multitasking, some very cool things can happen.

Making a truly meaningful contribution without falling prey to overwork and overwhelm is very challenging though. It requires a good deal of discipline, some honest prioritizing and regular, but polite use of the word “no”. Most importantly, however, it requires an intelligent micro-environment where a healthy balance and sufficient focus happens automatically. We will build such an environment in this section.

the brainFinally, to put the next few posts in the correct perspective, it can be useful to quickly summarize the mental control philosophy followed in this category of the One in a Billion project. Mental control is about using your limited willpower to set up intelligent micro-environments where the desired behavior happens automatically (basic control), harnessing the brain’s most powerful drivers for good and productive purposes (intermediate control), and taking good care of your brain when you reach that high performance zone (advanced control).

Such a brain can sustain remarkably high performance and creativity almost effortlessly and, frankly speaking, is quite possibly the most valuable thing in the world. If you want to become truly wealthy (in every sense of the word), developing such a brain is the best place to start.

Filed under: Mental control – Advanced control