What we've covered so far
This is the final part in our series on working in a long hours culture. If you are still with us, thank you! We have come a long way, so let’s recap.
I have suggested that the pressure we feel to put in the hours can either come from within ourselves or externally.
We looked at the one key element of any job that we must focus on if we want to make a difference and feel any sense of achievement.
To do this we must create, and jealousy guard, space in our schedules where we can give our focused attention to what I call ‘high leverage’ tasks. This requires a discipline, a determination, even a ruthlessness, to exclude interruptions, manage our energy and make sure that when we are at our best we focus on the work that really matters.
Last time we looked at some practical tips to structure our day and our week to ensure that the important doesn’t get eclipsed by the urgent, and I encouraged you to experiment with one of two of these and develop some habits around them.
Systems and processes only take you so far
All that said, there is a danger in reading, and writing, about these kinds of issues that we think there is a secret formula, a magic bullet, or we just need to find the perfect system, and all will be well.
Much as I champion trusted systems and processes to manage our commitments and bring order to our lives, there are other forces at work. Take Foster’s First Law of Chaos, for example:
Wherever there are people, things get messy
So, this becomes as much about mindset as method, and about having clear personal goals and values. These help us establish boundaries that prompt us to keep those appointments with ourselves, that remind us to close email when we need some focused time, to ignore calls and interruptions during this time, keep our eyes away from work email at home, and encourage us to close down, and close the office door on time on those nights we said we would be home early for dinner.
The long hours working culture has been with us for some time, especially in managerial and professional roles. 20 years ago the UK was top of the league in Europe in terms of hours worked and there is evidence that things have only got worse.
Was this part of a grand plan? Of course not! It has been driven by the pressures we have explored and, I would dare to suggest, by bad habits. But it’s not always about long hours; sometimes it’s about the personal compromises that our work expects of us, but maybe that’s a topic for another time.
Sometimes, there may be only one option
There is however an elephant in the room. The nuclear option. Sometimes we have to ask whether the sacrifices we are making, the price we are paying in terms of health, relationships, and quality of life are worth it, or whether we need to move on. Easier said than done, I know; I have been lucky. I have some readily transferrable skills so I’ve been able to make that decision twice. It’s just a pity I didn’t learn my own lesson the first time!
So by all means develop the hacks that help and the systems you can trust, but we risk tackling the symptoms rather than the underlying causes. That is why paying attention to what drives us to put in the hours is important. We then need a conversation, of which this series is hopefully a part, firstly with ourselves.
A conversation may then need to be had with your boss and you’ll already have a feel for how that might go. They have their own pressures of course but any boss worth their salt wants to get the best out of you. Couch it in those terms.
It could then move on to involve colleagues you trust; you are unlikely to be the only one struggling with these issues. How about setting up some kind of peer coaching group?
And onto your teams; what are you doing that is causing them difficulties in this area, and vice versa? Are there some development opportunities? Or a need to look again at the way the work is getting done when there might be a better way?
Consider coaching and mentoring
Given where you are reading this, it would be remiss of course not to encourage you to seek out a coach or mentor with whom you can explore some of these issues. And there is no reason why the conversation could not continue in the comments below.
This series has been about a specific aspect of the cultures in which we work; it was never intended to be a broader examination of culture per se, but I am going to leave you with a couple of related images.
The first concerns three goldfish in a bowl. One fish passes the other two and says, ‘How’s the water?’ The two fish carry on swimming and one says to the other, ‘What’s water?’
The second concerns a frog in a saucepan of water. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, and I have no intention of testing it, but I read that if you heat the water slowly to boiling, the frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late to escape.
As they say, go figure.
Thoughts, comments, questions?
We would love to continue the conversation. Please feel free to use the box below.
John publishes a monthly blog which you can find by following this link