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Home > Blog > Let's Hear it for the Overworked Brain surgeon
Out of Our Minds
Thursday, August 12, 2004 1:46 PM
Let's Hear it for the Overworked Brain surgeon
Anita Sharpe on Business

If you run a business, a department, a division -- or manage anybody -- I bet at at least one point in your career you have admired the person who shows up at 7 a.m. and is still plugging away after dark. You have admired the person who quickly answers your email at midnight and, perhaps even the person who boasts that they never take vacation.

Would you feel the same way if you found out that the pilot of your airplane worked 12 hours a day and rarely rested? Do you want a tired, overworked surgeon taking a knife to your heart or brain?

So why do many companies entrust their creative and strategic thinking to people who not only must be very, very tired -- but also have no time to travel for new perspectives, or to read a book or magazine that introduces fresh ideas, or to think about much of anything but the piles of work before them?


8 comments

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Redza - 8/15/2004 12:22:12 PM
Working hard can either mean (a) working for long hours, or (b) putting your best in the work that you do.

Personally, I find meaning (b) to be more attractive to my mind, body and soul.
Jeffrey - 8/14/2004 4:10:24 PM
While much of the commentary has focused on the lack of sleep and deadlines, I think your most powerful point is about the lack of exposure to new perspectives and thinking. The smaller the range of experiences people can turn to for creative inspiration the less combustible material that have for envisioning something truly strategic nad interesting.
Robert - 8/13/2004 3:14:14 PM
I agree with one of your implicit assumptions, which is there are too many 'very, very tired' people in critical creative and strategic roles. Perhaps one problem is that it is easy for such people to mask their ills with caffeine, medications, instant tan lotions, Botox (and yes, teeth whiteners) so readily available today! Yes, I am joking, but not entirely.

However, even when an individual's energy and enthusiasm are legitimate and organic, we often put too much weight on correlating such characteristics with his or her productivity and ultimate value. A dumb strategy, ramped up in a 24/7 environment with energy and enthusiasm, is still a dumb strategy.

Mark McCormack, the lawyer turned sports marketing and management legend, had it right. He noted that a true athletic champion would never wake at 5 am, practice until midnight, and repeat that regimen 365 days a year. Rather, they increase their energies around key events and tournaments, and practice less agressively during other periods. Businesspeople should stop treating every day like it's the Super Bowl, and more intelligently allocate their energies, so that they indeed one day can get to (and win) the 'Super Bowl' of their field.


Nathan Skreslet - 8/13/2004 11:53:06 AM
There is something to be said for the motivational power of deadlines but there is a limit to the amount of sleep disruption and skipped meals before either your body or your work begins to suffer. I discovered this as a design student when I would pull several all-nighters in a row and eat one meal a day if I remembered to eat at all. I was taking an insane class load and was on-the-go all the time. Looking back I can see that I was the person that Anita describes who had to be everywhere and doing more than everybody else. You may think workaholism is something to admire or even envy but trust me, it's not. I neglected my friends and relationships, I looked like crap all the time and spent my college years physically and emotionally exhausted when I should have been enjoying them. I've been trying to keep myself from returning to this pattern in my professional life.

Intriguingly, I read recently that the number one perk rated by professionals today is flexible hours. Rated even higher than longer vacations. If I could take several hour's break in the middle of the day to eat, run erands or just chill out I wouldn't mind at all staying later and I'd be more productive for it.
anita - 8/13/2004 11:48:45 AM
I don't disagree and I know that feeling of exhausted exhilaration. I wrote that post after having a lot of work-related evening events, after which I would come home and answer emails, etc. until past midnight, then go to sleep with all that swirling in my brain; I didn't sleep well, would wake up tired and begin the process all over again. It made me realize that our minds really need regular breaks to function at peak performance.
Joan - 8/13/2004 8:46:51 AM
If I were to graph my own 20-year career as a consultant, my graph would show spikes indicating periods of intense overtime and scrambling toward a deadline or transaction closing date. During these periods, my haircut appointments were abandoned, I ate 3 meals a day at my desk, I rarely slept and my family was definitely shortchanged. Between the dark- circled eyes, shaggy hair and coffee-stained teeth, I looked pretty awful during these periods. However, these spikes were truly exhilarating. I did my most creative problem solving when pressed into these exhausting situations. In fact, they were what provided energy to sustain me during the day-to-day parts. There is nothing wrong with being tired at work so long as it is for a purpose.
Randy Berlin - 8/12/2004 10:33:58 PM
very interesting point. Will we ever see a time in U.S. business where 3 hour siesta's are the norm like in Italy and many other countries? I respect the person who comes in at 7 and leaves after everyone else as long as they are not neglecting family. Sometimes its hard to measure creativity but its easy to measure an entire month off from work. Again, Italy in August.

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