Are you always on? How’s that working out for you?

Late last night a friend of mine posted on Facebook, “I love these thirteen-hour days.”

I could relate. Over the course of the last thirty-plus years, I’ve put in some of those long days myself. In hindsight, way too many of them. Looking back, there were times when it was necessary, but way too many times when I question whether the extra hours were really productive.

Lesilie Perlow, a Harvard Business School Professor who spends a lot of time identifying counterproductive work styles says, “Most of us are ‘successaholics.’ That’s what we think is necessary for our companies to succeed,” she says.

When talking about the need to change from the “always on” nature of today’s workplace, she says, “If you try to do things differently, you will find it incredibly valuable. It’s rallying together to recognize that if we continue to work in this way, it’s undermining our productivity, our sustainability, our creativity.”

She ran an experiment with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to challenge their long-standing assumption that 24/7 availability was essential to success. “Half the executives in a survey she conducted worked more than 65 hours a week, not counting some 20 hours spent monitoring their smartphones,” writes Joe Robinson. “She wanted to learn what would happen if BCG consultants—gulp!—took a full night off per week.”

I have long felt that the always-on mentality hurt, more than helped, productivity, and the results of this experiment validated my opinion.

“It unleashes an incredibly powerful process for these teams,” said Perlow. “They were planning better, prioritizing better, delivering better products to their clients. In the meantime they had more predictability and control of their lives.”

What’s more taking the one night a week completely off is now a company-wide initiative in their 32 offices around the world.

Lest you think I practice what I preach, I’m no different than any of the rest of you—and that’s the problem. A couple of years ago, my wife and I joined our adult children for a few days of camping and fishing in the Unitah Mountains of Utah. Once camp was set up I checked my smartphone to see if there were any emails or phone messages. To my dismay, I didn’t have any service. I spent the rest of the afternoon worrying about what I was missing. It wasn’t until the next day that I was able to put the phone aside and start to relax.

Despite the fact that I was out of contact with the office for four or five days, the world didn’t come to an end and nobody was able to prove that my role was useless or irrelevant. What’s more, the following Monday I was able to hit the ground running and had a very productive week.

I’m convinced that we only have so many hours of really creative productive juice every day and 12 to 14-hour days blow past that number to the point that many of those extra hours are on auto-pilot, aren’t very productive, and create a creativity deficit that actually impairs our ability well into the next week—ultimately causing burn-out, frustration, mistakes, and bad judgment.

Although I love what I do and enjoy working with my colleagues each day, when Friday afternoon finally rolls around, I’m ready for the week to come to an end. I relish the weekend as a time to recharge my batteries by avoiding my email (at least I try not to answer emails on the weekend) and doing something I enjoy. During the summer, it usually means several hours on the Harley, this time of year I need to be a little more creative.

“Perlow has been driven since her college days by the belief that it’s possible to be successful professionally but also have a personal life,” writes Robinson. I agree. What’s more, our CEO at Lendio feels that same way.

“It’s incredibly anxiety-provoking to turn off when you’re not used to turning off,” says Perlow. “One guy in the program who went to the barber on his midweek day off told her, ‘I had to tell everyone I hadn’t been laid off’”

Are you a workaholic? How’s that working out for you?

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One Response to Are you always on? How’s that working out for you?

  1. kris February 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile and I guess I just don’t think BCG should be applauded for allowing their employees to take a night off of work per week. Unfortunately, that legitimizes the idea that it’s okay to expect 4 or 5 nights a week in the first place. I don’t know that working 4 nights a week instead of 5 or 6 or 7 really leads to less stress and burnout.

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