Living Life, Working Smarter and the Window-Dressing of Long Office Hours

Work smarter, not harder

“Pain isn’t God’s way of telling you he’s mad at you. It’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down. If it hurts, don’t keep running on it, because you’ll only destroy it. But, hey, that’s the American way, right? Pushing through pain.”

No, the quote above isn’t from some cheesy sports movie.  It’s an actual quote said to me by my doctor at urgent care yesterday, a few hours after I tore my calf muscle while working out on the beach.

Remember my previous post about Morning Rituals?  Yeah, well, my morning ritual went awry when I attempted to work out on an already-tender calf muscle and … POP … now on I’m crutches and painkillers.

It’s my own fault.  And the doctor was correct.  I grew up watching the Rocky Movies and reading heroic stories like those of Pittsburgh Steelers legend Rocky Bleier.

No pain, no gain, right?

Well, yes, to a point.  There’s a difference between pushing through fatigue in a workout and pushing through an injury. But sometimes we, unfortunately, don’t differentiate between the two.

I’m not just talking about exercise and sports.  Think about our work lives and the perceived (wrongly) value of “burning the midnight oil” and putting in extra hours at the office.

As someone who used to live the cubicle/water cooler life, and traded it in for a life of entrepreneurship and working from home, I have a unique perspective on my former life.

So much of what happens in an office is window-dressing.  Eight hours a day in the office, and only two hours (maybe) of actual work.  The other hours? Filled with Web surfing, water cooler conversations, morning discussions about the sports scores, useless meetings to plan for additional useless meetings, conference calls to plan for other meetings … bookended by stressful, two hour commutes that allow us to see our families for an hour each night.

Our reward for all of that craziness?  A slow slog up the corporate ladder, mixed with spending the prime years of our lives in a state of stress, to be followed by a retirement in which we realize we don’t remember seeing our kids grow up and only have a decade or so to travel the world and enjoy life.

But that’s the American Way, right?

For example, take this recent article in The Atlantic about the horrible work-life balance in the U.S.  America is a beacon of prosperity.  But we rank near the bottom in the world in terms of work-life balance.

Let’s be clear: I’m not ragging on the value of hard work. And, yes, this post is geared toward office workers more so than the hard-working Americans (the backbone of our economy) who toil in factories and fields across the country.

But the fact is, those of us who work in media, marketing, public relations, legal, accounting, etc. need to learn to work smarter — not necessarily harder.

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss, a swell as the Getting Things Done philosophy of David Allen. And, while, not every part of their books and programs is right for me (or you), the overall theme is right on target:

Set Priorities Every Day. Manage your inbox and incoming calls. Take Control of Your Day from the Start.  Live Life to the Fullest NOW.

Whether it’s sticking to your Morning Ritual; learning to batch your email checking only a few times per day; sticking to only one or two priorities on your to-do list each day … there are a number of things we can do to worker smarter and increase our productivity — while actually working less hours per week.

We’ll examine some of these more specific tips and tricks in the coming weeks, but I wanted to set the tone with this post.

It’s time to stop counting work hours as a measurement of our success. It’s time to stop wearing our stress and anxiety as a badge of honor.  It’s time to live more and work less (while being even more productive).

That should be the new American Way. And it starts with you.

2 Replies to “Living Life, Working Smarter and the Window-Dressing of Long Office Hours”

  1. I agree on a gut level +Curt Mercadante. I hate laziness and inefficiency in white collar jobs when others are working their fingers to the bone. Of course those negative behaviours are not confined to white collar workers 😐 Yes, I like GTD too – but it takes a lot of sweat and tears to implement it efficiently. Happily I cracked that when I started applying it using Evernote.

  2. Malc, I think it’s best not to confine oneself to one “program”, such as GTD or Four Hour Workweek. I find that (at least for me) these programs work best when I apply the general principles and adapt to my workflow. For example, it’s amazing how email batching three times per day has completely changed my workday and stress level. Thanks for the comment!

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