The working harder trap

Many people working in the services industries on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and New Territories are chronically or temporarily overwhelmed – yeah swamped – with work. Facing an avalanche of tasks, to dos and deadlines often leads to the belief, that working a bit harder for a while will calm the monster. What might seem like a short term solution for the occasional emergency or priority project can easily become a BAD HABIT and thereby end up becoming overtime by default. And with it might become a social norm or even worse company culture (“that’s the way we do it here”). In my years as a business manager people used to joke “Hey Seb, are you taking half day off?” when I left the WanChai office at 7pm after 10-12hrs of work. Looking back, I find that sad – not funny. We know that there is no increase in productivity. People just get used to the norm of “sticking around”. Time spent in the office becomes inflationary.

Popular and unhealthy Efficiency Myths

  • The try-harder illusion
  • Multi-tasking
  • Unrelenting (and silly) standards
  • Doping (caffeine, sugar, supplements)
  • Cutting back on sleep

Each of the above would be worth exploring in a separate feature. I will explain the first one here. Many of my clients in Central, Causeway Bay, Taikoo Place and Quarry Bay have fallen into the Try-Harder-Trap: People seem to believe that by just putting another hour in they will be able to solve their problems and to accomplish more. While occasionally doing so might help, doing so on a daily basis will just raise the bar and the effect vaporizes short after. I help clients identify when and where they fall into the try-harder-trap. In this trap you are trying more of the same of what you are already doing. Only harder. You put in an extra hour over lunch or in the morning. And then also after a while in the evening. And of course sometimes on the weekend. Then maybe every weekend. The dynamic resembles an addiction: more, more, more. Increased frequency and/or higher dosage. Same with email. Same with meals. Same with space: working not only in the office, but also at home, during the commute, on holiday, during a theatre performance, …

Albert Einstein said: Insanity is, when you are doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome.

You need to learn how to work smarter, not harder.