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Home > Blog > Why You Are Overworked...and What to Do About It
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, November 30, 2005 4:06 AM
Why You Are Overworked...and What to Do About It
David Batstone on Business

Just about everyone I know reports to me that they feel overworked and stressed. In many cases, they feel near the point of burn-out or suffer from panic attacks.

Business Week magazine offered data to underscore the overworked professional. Over 31% of college-educated males are working 50 or more hours per week on a regular basis, up from 22% in 1980. About 40% of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on weekdays, up from 34% in 2001. In 1989, Japanese workers put in 10% more hours per year, on average, than American workers; today, the Japanese work 2% fewer hours per year than Americans.

Statistics in this case are redundant. I don't have to convince you that we are overwhelmed with work. A whole generation of professional workers cannot be swimming in the same pool of delusion...and we are not all wimps. We face a fundamental dilemma: organizations are not adapting to the pace of change.

Most organizations still order themselves into silos - departments, divisions, and units - with each person carrying a title and role within that silo. Yet their operations no longer move along a hierarchical path. Increasingly, productivity is generated horizontally across silos. In practical terms, each individual must now communicate with and satisfy the demands of a wide range of agents outside of their silo, and even collaborate on a regular basis with agents who live beyond the walls of the organization.

Our workload, unfortunately, does not shift accordingly. We continue to fulfill the duties of our silo, while also taking on the incremental increase in duties outside the silo. Consider, for example, who you must email during the course of a day in order to move a project forward. The number of people from whom you need information, cooperation, or at a minimum who you need to keep in the loop, has mushroomed. The proliferation of tasks and reports puts individuals inside the system under considerable stress. It also creates organizational inefficiency.

Successful organizations will meet the Next Reality proactively. They will shift their organizational structure away from silos and align their workforce toward networks. Here are five practical guidelines: Read on....


1) Individuals inside the organization should be assigned tasks in relation to a project, and only provisionally in relation to a job title. To do so, organizations must adopt malleable command-and-control systems that permit them to deploy - and redeploy - workers where they can best be utilized. Once assigned to a new role, workers ought not to lug along with them the duties they were assigned in their previous role. Wearing multiple hats usually only gives one a splitting headache.\n\n2) Distinct silos within the same organization replicate tasks unnecessarily. The reporting process - the parties who needs to receive documentation for what is being done - particularly weighs workers down. Reporting should be streamlined to the right manager at the relevant time. \n\n3) Management must learn to trust more and exercise more consistent accountability. The average individual in an organization spends a good portion of his or her day pursuing permission: to approve a client sale, to implement the design on an ad promotion, to send out a press release, whatever. Managers must facilitate decision-makers, not manage by decisions.\n\n4) Hold meetings only when absolutely necessary. They are the biggest time drain in an organization. Most meetings are convened to get 'everyone up to speed' if not 'on the same page.' Collaborative software should evolve into the process and the documentation of a project. A periodic team retreat that determines project scope and direction, on the other hand, offers a helpful framework for virtual collaboration.\n\n5) Managers should be recognized for cutting outmoded tasks as well as shaving expenses. After all, time is money. In that regard, it is critical to recognize that new technologies do not always save time. More typically, they shift time and effort. Considerable thought should be put into the implications of a new innovation on work load. For each new task added, figure out a way to eliminate one.\n\nThere's more to say, but my work load for today just reached its cap.\n


4 comments

Chris Yeh - 12/2/2005 7:47:54 PM
At the risk of seeming flip, why don't we just do less?

Dickens once wrote, that misery occurred when expenses exceeded income, while happiness was when income exceeded expenses.

Today, the same holds true, except for time instead of money.

We all have choice in how we spend our time. And we should have the guts to spend it the way that we want, not the way that others want.
Caroline - 12/1/2005 8:21:11 PM
At the risk of oversimplifying this notion of being overworked, we ought to think about the effectiveness of the communication methods we are using. Are we replacing direct telephone or face-to-face conversations where decisions can be made instantly with emails that 'cc' various decision-makers, department heads and influencers inside the organization? All of whom then use 'reply all' to respond. Perhaps using a direct, purposeful means of communications-a conversation- could save everyone a little time. Just a thought..
Lawrence Haughton - 11/30/2005 4:48:27 PM
I can give you some examples of #3 Jerome from the research for my book, It's Not What You Say... It's What You Do - How Following Through At Every Level Will Make or Break Your Company. You can go to http://www.laurencehaughton.com
Jerrome - 11/30/2005 11:16:10 AM
These are interesting points, David, but I would love to see concrete examples of where they have actually worked. That would be instructive. David? Or anyone else?

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