We love to throw ourselves on the cross worshipping at The Temple of Busy and talking about how much we have to do — although I’m still unclear why the quantity of your work actually matters— but this is a slightly-simpler time of year, one where work can take a backseat (even if a slight one) to more essential priorities. This is important.
The sheer fact of the matter is, we overcomplicate work.
Work is, literally by definition, a series of tasks, targets, or goals that someone assigns to you — and in turn, you get paid for completing them and doing a good job on them via the organizational standards. It’s not anything more complicated than that, in reality.
The problem is, we make it more complicated, and we do that for a variety of reasons. Predominantly, we want to be seen as important and purposeful. Sad fact, though: not every employee is important and/or purposeful — and since the goal of most organizations is to make money, the implication becomes that only revenue-facing employees are truly important (which works out, as they tend to get promoted easier and faster) — and so that makes it even harder.
Stop and think about it like this for one second: if someone came up with a work system called ‘Results-Only Work Environment,’ where you could finish your tasks and go focus on other things, wouldn’t that be all the rage?
You would think, right? Then someone who can achieve goals in 20 hours gets 20 hours of time back, whereas someone who wants to work 85 hours can totally do that as well.
Because work has never been about being logical. It’s about a group of people from disparate backgrounds and with different emotional compositions coming together to achieve something.
(Hint: so is sales. There’s a science to sales, but it’s so often driven by emotion.)
Because of this, and because people want to be accepted and thought of as ‘doing good,’ we have this weird culture at most places where staying late and having so much to do and overextending yourself on work is what matters.
But almost every piece of social science research in the last 30 years has told us that happiness actually comes from moving away from work and money and those ideas and moving towards relationships and time.
So … while some people are definitely happy at work (God Bless ‘Em), mostly you have a situation where these two concepts are at odds:
- This is how I need to behave and act at work!
- This is how I can actually be happy in my day-to-day existence!
Those almost consistently clash for a lot of people, myself included.
Which brings us back to now.
Dirty little secret: in reality, you do about 590 hours of actual work per year. What you mostly do is send e-mails, go to meetings, and group-think/digital paper-push on things. That’s not actually work. It’s accepted as work by most, but it’s not work. It’s typically not moving any balls forward.
This time of year, though, people get a little bit of a break. You might have tasks and goals and projects and deliverables, but again, you’ll always have those. They’re not going anywhere. They were there in October, and they will be there in January. This is the time of year to sneak out a little earlier, or grab that after-work drink on a Tuesday. People accept that around the holidays.
This is the time of year to understand that 55 hours/week is a hard ceiling work-wise, and embrace that. It’s a time to understand that overwork isn’t just bad for you, it’s bad for your company’s bottom line.
Your family matters. Your friends matter. Time with them matters. So use the next few weeks as a way to get that time, build those relationships, and reflect on this year — and the year ahead. We all need this recharge. Make it yours. You can.