I’ve noticed that over the course of a week that over-working and working smarter are both self-reinforcing. To put it another way: the less I work, the less work I have to do; the more I work, the more work I have to do.
I’ve found that during periods where I have a lot I need to get done, I work harder. I dive in right away, take less breaks, and put in more hours. Often this is necessary for a short period of time, but it can be dangerous. By over-working the first thing that gets cut is time for reflection. By cutting this thinking time I’m less apt to see those smarter ways to get things done. I don’t cut off tasks that drag, I miss an opportunity to delegate, I miss a clever solution that solves a problem, etc. All of this ends up causing the work to take longer creating more total work for myself, which makes it more likely that I’ll over-work the next day beginning a vicious cycle.
The same pattern is true for working smarter. By taking a step back from my work I review what’s on my list and figure out how to cut things, I delegate early to get a project in motion, and I reflect on hard problems to find shortcuts. All of this ends up reducing the overall amount of work, which gives me more time the next day to work smarter. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Have other people had this same experience? I make a point to try and be cognizant of either cycle happening to me so I can work to break or embrace it, but it’s not always easy to catch myself.
3 Responses to “The vicious cycle of working harder”
Jason H Says:
June 18th, 2010 at 6:19 pm
For me, the only work I actually enjoy doing is figuring out how to do things better because I get bored very easily from routine work. My problem is, sometimes I spend too much time trying to figure out how to make something more efficient that the actual stuff that ultimately needs to get done gets put on hold for too long.
Amy Mossoff Says:
June 18th, 2010 at 7:49 pm
I haven’t noticed this phenomenon, but I have noticed that when I give myself “permission” to work less (sick, vacations, etc.), I stop coming up with ten thousand new projects a day. In other words, when I work less (less hard OR less smart), and not much is getting crossed off the task list, I’m also not adding to the task list. And when I’m working my butt off, I seem to think of more projects and ideas than I can possibly even capture. It’s a bit frustrating.
Anand Chhatpar Says:
June 19th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
Very good observation, Keith! I’ve just started reading a book right now called “E-myth Revisited” and I highly recommend it already. The book suggests business owners to do the “smart work” of creating systems, processes, metrics, and goals for your business as opposed to doing the actual work yourself. I think that’s what we need to do to get to the next level.