Are you working too hard?

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always run to simplicity.

Bruce Lee

6:00 a.m. and my iPhone enters a spasm of vibration and sound. I slowly reach over to disarm the noise. Afterwards, I lay there for 10 minutes repeatedly counting down, hoping that my bed will catapult me out of the covers.

I stumble out, slurp the last of my sloppy cereal and venture to the gym. Exhausted muscles struggle to pull, push and lift as the meek sunlight creeps through the windows. Returning home deflated, listening to a Financial Times podcast documenting all the doom and gloom that will send us into the next Great Depression.

Next destination is the library which will occupy the next 11-12 hours. Collapsing onto the bed, the cycle repeats itself 7 days a week. An abysmal life to lead, yet I was convinced that all this “grind” and “hard” work was the key to financial and personal freedom.

Is your goal retirement?

The retirement goal is ubiquitous in that we do not even question it when someone says “I hate my job but I will do it for another 40 years, so I can retire and enjoy life.” There are flaws with this reasoning. You will likely spend the majority of the prime years of your life working. You may want to travel the world when you retire, but do you really have the capability to endure a world tour at 70 after exposing your body to such tough conditions in your earlier years? Nothing justifies the sacrifice. Do not expect life to get any easier either. If you are working long hours now, getting a promotion may improve your paycheck but in most cases your hours will increase as you acquire more responsibility.

Another concern is how do you plan on funding your retirement? Savings in a bank are eroded by inflation each year and over a long time-span your money will dwindle to nothing. Yes there are investment funds that offer higher returns and I am far from suggesting that you should not save, but, without serious consideration of your finances you may end up poorer when it comes to retirement than you were before. Even if you save up £1 million, making that last 30 years leaves you with approximately £33,000 a year. Nothing to rejoice about.

Assume that you are a successful, wealthy individual who has relentlessly worked to secure a financially secure retirement. How long do you think it will take for you to become bored? Your mind cannot cope with the lack of activity and bustle that previously governed your life. It will not be long before you return to the familiarity of work.

Less is not laziness.

Our culture tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity. Many jobs are paid by the hour and if you are on a salary, you are required to be in the office for a certain number of hours e.g. the 9-5 if you’re lucky. Maximising productivity and not hours worked should be your focus so you can get the important things done and still experience the vast array of pleasures the world has to offer.

Being busy is a form of laziness.

Answering requests with “sorry I’m busy” is a win-win. You manage to get out an activity that would take you away from your “work” and your friends now think you are some super, hard-working machine. Replace the previous phrase with a honest statement “sorry I’m unorganised and lack discipline”.  I used the “busy” excuse so often that my friends would just stop asking me. Yes I could be all alone with my work but it’s a sad existence. I read a statistic that at 18 years old, you will have spent 93% of your total contact time with your parents before they pass away. Life is short indeed.

We need rest, social interaction and diversity, it is in our nature. Being overwhelmed is unproductive, and rather we should aim to be in a state of calm focus. Ever felt so in the zone, that you just forget about everything else. That is calm focus and it requires you to be well-rested and relaxed. We should avoid being busy at all costs. Identify what is absolutely crucial and ignore the rest. All work and no play results in less work than a balanced combination, making the extra hours of grafting a complete waste of time.

Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson’s law dictates that a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the day before the exam where I will be tasked with answering two essay-style questions. Only problem is, I have not written one of the essays yet or attempted to memorise the other essay. Instead of entering a flustered panic and visualising the horror of staring at a blank page in the exam hall, I put Parkinson’s law to work.

I set a short deadline of two hours and 30 minutes to write the whole essay. When under strict time pressure your mind begins to concentrate on the task at hand and forgets to worry. Although requiring an extra 30 minutes to polish off my work, it had taken me just three hours to finish the essay. Minimal anxiety, stress or panic. Without deadlines, our work will cheerfully consume every second of conscious time we have. Deadlines set us free.

If you had a heart attack and could only work two hours per day what would you do?

Your answer to the above may be the answer to working less. Try it out. Decide to work only for 2 hours out of the 24 (easier for some, I must admit) and measure how much you get done. The results may surprise you.

It is vain to do with more what can be done with less

William of Occam

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