Working More and Accomplishing Less?

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lightstock_129013_medium_user_2273690Recent survey results from a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership reveal that executives, managers, and professionals are working close to 72-hour work weeks. Many of these 40+ hours are due to how plugged in we are and can be when we’re not physically at work.

Most professionals state that they don’t really mind the increased access or decreased time unplugged. It’s more the quality of what they’re able to accomplish as a result of being so plugged in all the time. It’s the decrease in time spent focusing on higher-level thinking that includes, creativity, ideation, strategic thinking, and general productivity.

In early spring of 2012, I had the chance to hear accomplished McKinsey leader, Dominic Barton, speak. While he took some time to talk about his particular area of expertise in the company, he surprised many of us by focusing the majority of his talk on how he spends his time. He talked about this in terms of energy expenditure and explained that he has worked hard to get to know when he thinks and works best on particular projects or certain interactions. As often as he can, he then tailors his schedule to support those strengths. He encouraged us to do the same.

In reading the 72-hour work week article and reflecting on Barton’s speech, I couldn’t help but make the connection to a chapter I just finished in Scarcity regarding mental bandwidth in relation to cognitive capacity and executive function. We only have so much glucose to expend on brain activity. When we expend what we have – through mental tasks, worries, competing interests, etc. – we display less accurate judgment, come across as a lot less intelligent and, frankly, accomplish a whole lot less.

No two ways about it – we have to refuel. We also have to plan. We need to think about when our brain functions best on certain types of tasks and we have to create a schedule to prioritize this awareness.

This isn’t always possible. We have to travel, to schedule meetings around others’, as well as our own, schedules. But, we’d do well to make this a priority whenever we can.

How are you managing your personal energy budget?


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