“Work smarter, not harder.”
How many times in your career have you heard that phrase? Even if you pride yourself on being a hard worker, your ultimate goal should be to work more productively and efficiently, freeing you up for more time away from the office.
I know firsthand that for entrepreneurs, this is easier said than done. We’re workhorses by nature. And yet the best ideas don’t happen at desks or in offices. Some of my best work ideas have come in those unplugged moments, on vacation or on my bike. It’s only through time spent away from the grind that we can recharge our minds and reinvigorate our passions.
In today’s world, incredible technology, mobile apps, devices and cloud-based productivity tools should enable everyone to work smarter, leveraging the latest technological advances to power increased efficiency, productivity and results.
And yet, according to the latest survey by my company, PGi, 88 percent or workers work more than 40 hours week and the traditional 9-to-5 workday has vanished. The survey results prompted PGi to launch a content campaign, #TakeBack60, dedicated to providing productivity tips, technology resources and work-life balance ideas to help people reclaim 60 minutes from their week. The campaign, begun last week, extends to just before Labor Day.
People are increasingly sacrificing family time, hobbies, fitness and more in the interest of meeting deadlines or knocking out one more assignment.
Wasn’t all of this technology supposed to make things quicker, easier and more efficient? So why is everyone working harder than ever before?
One part of the problem is that technology is not being applied to our work lives in an intelligent way. Technology has the potential to make work quicker, easier and more efficient. But technology in and of itself isn’t intelligent enough to distinguish between what’s possible and what’s best for you as an individual. Instead, apps and devices can mindlessly heap more work on you and deliver information to you anywhere at any time, but technology still requires your input to be truly valuable. The input required can vary widely, from choosing the most intuitive tool to simply managing notifications on a smartphone.
Simply put, technology is about doing more things more quickly. The “better” part of the equation still requires human interaction -- for now.
Ultimately, the missing piece of this perpetually overworked puzzle is the need to change philosophies and behaviors alongside technologies. Think of all the things people can now do without being shackled to a desk, thanks to smartphones and tablets. It's possible to answer emails, download and edit documents, manage projects and workflows and even have face-to-face virtual meetings from practically anywhere.
Workers tend to believe that because these things are possible they’ve become expected. But it’s vitally important for both management and employees to establish boundaries around their technologically empowered work lives. Without boundaries, work becomes a 24/7 proposition, leading to overwork and all of its associated problems: stress, lower morale, poor performance and reduced productivity.
Your leadership must set the standard; if you’re constantly emailing after hours, your team is going to see that as an expectation. I know that I’m guilty of this, and sometimes the work simply calls for it. But if you never unplug, your team won’t know if they’re allowed to or not, leading to increased stress rather than increased productivity. And that’s not even accounting for the stress you’re causing yourself.
Perhaps someday work applications and devices will be smart enough to know people better than they know themselves, keeping them from succumbing to the perils of overwork. But until then, individuals have to take responsibility for themselves to take back some of those extra hours and spend them on the things -- and with the people -- that truly matter.
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