5 Essential Steps to Avoid Overwork in 2017

In his book REWORK, David Heinemeier Hanson, creator of Ruby on Rails, makes a bold statement: “fire the workaholics.”

Contrary to virtually everything today’s startup culture would tell us about the recipe for success and what it takes to get to the top, DHH stands firm in the belief that being a workaholic isn’t the key to cash-flow woes or success.

Is he right?

Today, most small business owners and founders are familiar with overwork: that awful sensation when the responsibilities, to-do lists, and meetings start to stretch into eternity.  All your brain wants to do is shut off, and all your body wants to do is get up and move, but you can’t because you have too much to do. You’re chained to your computer.

This is overwork, and it’s the bane of most self-employed people I know.

If you’ve experienced overwork yourself, you know that trying to push through it feels like sprinting through molasses. It’s frustrating and stressful. As it turns out, science has your back. According to a 2015 study by CNBC, working more than 50 hours each week harms productivity. In fact, people who work 70 hours a week are no more productive than people who work 55 hours a week.

How do you avoid overwork in a world that seems to think more is more, though? Is it even possible? The answer is yes, and it’s not as difficult as you might think.

In the Name of Your Health: 5 Steps to Avoid Overwork

Whether you’re a startup founder or an employee of a busy company, these five steps will help you maintain your sanity and prevent burnout throughout 2017 and beyond.

 1. Train the People Around You to Prioritize

In an office environment, one of the biggest culprits of overwork is wasted time and unproductive meetings (middle-managers spend 35% of their working hours in meetings), which distract people from focusing on more critical things.

As such, one of the most productive things you can do is train the people around you to prioritize and work smarter, not harder. Harvard Business Review recommends doing this with an approach called “psychological distance.” Psychological distance is the act of stepping back and evaluating the big picture. Instead of attacking an entire to-do list like it’s all critical, focus on breaking it down so you and your team can prioritize the real emergencies, and then go from there.

2. Learn to Delegate

For outcome-driven, Type-A personalities, delegating can feel like an impossible task. If you’re serious about avoiding overwork, though, it’s essential. Look at your daily workload and determine your top 3-5 “pain points.” Whether these are answering email or creating content, there’s likely a way to delegate those things.

Emails can be addressed with auto-responders that offer other contact points and FAQ pages, for example, while the burden of content creation can be offset by hiring a freelancer or on-staff writer. By reducing the pain points, you free up more time to do what you’re good, which helps you prevent burnout and keep your work (and stress levels) in check.

3. Stop Glorifying “Busy”

How many times have you asked someone how they were only for them to respond, “Good – busy!” Today, some people confuse “busy” with “successful,” or “productive,” although the two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, Derek Sivers, the creator of CD Baby (which sold for $22 million) has said, “To me, ‘busy’ implies that a person is out of control of their life.”

In the coming year, stop glorifying “busy.”  Most founders work as hard as they do because it gives them a sense of meaning. Despite that, however, there’s typically a way to do more with less. Find that way and capitalize on it for a healthier 2017.

4. Break Tasks into Manageable Chunks

If you’re going to eat an elephant, you do it bite by bite. When you begin big jobs early, you’ll find yourself less stressed than if you left them to the last minute. Breaking down your workload also helps you create higher-quality material and enjoy the process more.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Overwork, Then Change it

The best way to put an end to overwork is to see what you do to nurture it, and then change your habits. Set boundaries where you need to, work harder for four days, then take Friday off, or develop a daily schedule that works better for your life and happiness. While it’s easy to come up with excuses, avoiding overwork is that simple.

Overwork no More

We live in a time that glamorizes overwork, but it’s not as sexy as it seems. When you banish overwork from your life, you give yourself the freedom to put out a better-quality product and be happier doing it. That’s a win-win for everyone.


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