Work Hard, Rest Harder
Be The Real You..
Lately, I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve had plenty to do, and just got on my grind to get things done, but ultimately it didn’t feel like my best work. It’s my bread and butter stuff, not my groundbreaking exciting work.
In contrast, when I’m in “the zone” work just flows. New ideas seem to come effortlessly, new connections between different ideas are clearer to see, and generally I just feel energised.
The other day, I just decided to stop and think about the differences between the two conditions flow and grind. I looked at old journal entries during both conditions and found that the major issue that stood out between the two, is that in one state I was well rested and the other not so much. I’ll leave you to guess which state corresponded to each experience.
After reacquainting myself with what I already know, which is a good exercise to do by the way, I wanted to write a post that I would come back to, to help me remember that a fully rested me is the best me to produce my best work. It’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I hope that you find this post as useful as I intend it to be for me.
Why are you working so hard? Is it because you are full of energy and ideas and just ready to unleash it, or is it because you have expectations to meet or goals to achieve?
Regardless of your reasons, you can get caught up in what you are doing and unwittingly neglect the rest that you need to continue producing high quality work. Working long hours, not taking enough breaks and cutting into your sleep can become habitual, just because your self talk says things like “I’ll go on a break in a minute” or “I’ll do it this time and catch up on my sleep after I finish what I’m doing”.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with working hard, it can be difficult for some of us to break away from what we are doing because of a compulsion to want to do better, do more, and achieve higher. Worryingly, this approach is increasingly becoming the accepted way to work or study, and the rise of hustle culture is not helping.
The pressure to succeed can be heightened for some people due to the proliferation of images and stories that seem to validate that working harder than your competition will ultimately lead to success, implying that if you’re not successful, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.
It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty for taking a break whilst at work, even though they are entitled to it, or for working long hours so as to show that they are not just working, but over working because they are overachievers.
A 34-year-old tax attorney was admitted to the medical services with a complaint of chest pain. Four months earlier, he had noted the onset of leg pains, followed a month later by constant substernal and left-sided chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tremor…
It was estimated that for at least three years he had worked 80 to 100 hours per week. He took no vacations and seldom took any weekends or days off…
The patient described himself as someone who had to “rely on hard work rather than brains”…
He feared being in a position where he would be dependent on anyone else and believed that he had to accept all work that was referred to him, or he might never get any more.Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
The Frustrating Grind
Continually working long hard hours eventually leads to diminishing returns and can be harmful to your health. I have found that it can be difficult to realise that by spending more time working rather than stopping to take a break and making sure that I get enough rest (sleep and recreation), that it is actually taking me longer to get work done and reducing the quality of the work that I do.
The really annoying thing for me is that it’s usually when I take a step back from what I’m doing that I realise I’m reducing my efficiency by working longer instead of smarter. Sometimes people can tell you that you need to take it easy and slow down, but it’s difficult to acknowledge when your main priority becomes your work.
But, as the saying goes, if you don’t hear you must feel, and your body will give you warning signs that will increase in seriousness if you don’t stop and listen to what your body is telling you. Look out for the following signs of being overworked:
- Increase in fatigue
- Inability to sleep
- Loss of libido
- Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities (anhedonia)
- Diminished concentration
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Memory impairment
- Suicidal thoughts
- Chest pains
- Excessive smoking
- General aches and pains
- Shortness of breath
source: Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
A Rested You
If you are feeling overworked and stressed you may first want to seek professional help from your medical practitioner of choice. Don’t hesitate or say that it’s not that serious; delaying seeking professional advice can be costly, and after reading some of the case studies in a study by John M. Rhoads, MD that was published in 1977 (which was the major study I referenced when writing this post), I would strongly advise that you do. There may be other underlying issues that if addressed, at the very least will help in addressing some of your overworking issues.
There are some things that you can do by yourself to address the issue apart from the obvious of not working so long:
- Set limits to how long you work per day, and don’t work on weekends. It is important that you stick to these rules, no exceptions. But start off small. Eventually work towards a 40 hour week if you work 50, or 50 hours if you work more than 60. Don’t jump all in, remember this is a change that you will keep up for the rest of your working life.
- Rethink your attitude towards work and the time that you spend there. For example, does your family or social life suffer because you are constantly working? You may need help with this one, so don’t feel afraid to speak to a councillor or someone you can trust about this.
- Make a point of going on vacation (even if your vacation is to stay local, but do no work or work related activities)!
- Schedule for recreation time. Find out what you like to do (apart from work – no cheating), and make time to do it. Join a club or do a team sport that takes you away from the working environment, and demands just enough attention so that you have to go regularly to improve and practice at home (for me that is doing a martial art, which helps me to get rid of tension and helps with my breathing, focus and concentration skills in life and work in general).
Resist the urge to work for longer than you need to. Redirect the energy you spend working long hours to organising your work life around actually living.
Stick to your work hours (9-5 Monday to Friday for example) and take regular breaks throughout your working day.
Schedule time for yourself and family/friends so that you avoid becoming one dimensional and have interests outside of work.
But ultimately, reconnect with yourself and be true to you.
Many persons are able to work equally long hours without becoming ill. Those who become ill are those who ignore their body’s signals for rest, recuperation, and recreation.Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
One must keep in mind that people differ individually in their amounts of available energy, recuperative powers, and in enjoyment of work