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.

Mindfulness for Hong Kongers

A selection of useful English-speaking information online and in Hong Kong
Free Reading and listening – online

Where to find formal training in Hong Kong?

Where to find regular practice and retreats in Hong Kong?

  • Hong Kong Insight Meditation Society
  • Plum Village Hong Kong:
  • Facebook: Mindful Hong Kong (“I like”)
  • Integrated Medicine Institute:
  • Smartspace at Smartcells: free morning meditation open group contact sebastian (at)

Institutions which promote mindfulness within a broader scope (Find more on news, lectures, workshops and retreats and contact them to join their newsletters)

  • Centre for Buddhist Studies, Hong Kong University
  • Centre on Behavioural Health, Hong Kong University
  • Centre for Religious and Spirituality Education, Institute of Education

Here a short sample from my favorite Intro text “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana:
“… Take worry. We worry a lot. Worry itself is the problem. Worry is a process. It has steps. Anxiety is not just a state of existence but a procedure. What you’ve got to do is to look at the very beginning of that procedure, those initial stages before the process has built up a head of steam. The very first link of the worry chain is the grasping/rejecting reaction. As soon as some phenomenon pops into the mind, we try mentally to grab onto it or push it away. That sets the worry response in motion. Luckily, there is a handy little tool called Vipassana meditation which you can use to short-circuit the whole mechanism.

Vipassana meditation teaches us how to scrutinize our own perceptual process with great precision. We learn to watch the arising of thought and perception with a feeling of serene detachment. We learn to view our own reactions to stimuli with calm and clarity. We begin to see ourselves reacting without getting caught up in the reactions themselves. The obsessive nature of thought slowly dies. We can still get married. We can still step out of the path of the truck. But we don’t need to go through hell over either one. …” (you can download the pdf version at lots of places online – see above – on a donation basis – it’s worth it!)