How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More
John Drake (Author)
Publication date: 01/01/2001
Bestseller over 25,000+ copies sold
IS THIS ANY WAY TO LIVE?
There’s more to life than work.
WORKING LIKE CRAZY
“I should have left an hour ago.” “Between my job and my family, I haven’t got a minute for myself.” “The money is great, but there’s got to be more to life than this.” Do these statements have a familiar ring? Maybe you’ve uttered the same words yourself. If so, you’re not alone. U.S. News and World Report 1 found that 49 percent of Americans say our society puts too much emphasis on work and not enough on leisure. For many, the idea of leisure is a joke. Gates McKibbin, a former organization effectiveness consultant with McKinsey & Company, put it this way:
The prevailing work ethic in the United States right now demands that people succumb to absurdly escalated expectations of the time and energy that one must invest in work-related activities. The fast pace and pressure to be plugged-in at all times, made possible by the omnipresent cell phones, voicemail, e-mail, laptops, and faxes, fuel the expectation that employees should quite literally be available to deal with work issues 24 hours a day—wherever they are, whatever they are doing.2
The lead article in a recent Barron’s 3 magazine stated that “Glutted with goods, Americans increasingly want ‘feel-goods’—cruises, makeovers, golf lessons, and the biggest luxury of all, free time.”
The good news is that, in the effort to attain more free time, you’re a step ahead of most people. Selecting this book suggests that you’ve probably been thinking for some time about cutting back at work. You have already crossed an important psychological barrier!
In reading Downshifting, you are also making a great start toward living a more fulfilling life—a goal sought by many, but all too seldom achieved. This book is designed to guide you through the steps necessary for converting your fondest lifestyle dreams into reality.
WORKPLACE ENJOYMENT ROBBERS
Today a variety of forces converge on us at work, resulting in increased pressure and incredible demands on our time. Some of these forces are subtle, others overpowering. It is difficult to escape them. I think of these pressures as enjoyment robbers and we are going to explore some of them in this chapter. Quite likely, their presence in your organization accounts for your desire to downshift.
The Competitive Pressures
One reason we are enjoying our jobs less arises from the impact of the global economy. Competitive pressures bring more mergers and downsizing, and with them a double whammy: the fear of job loss on the one hand and increased work burdens on the other. Margie’s story is a case in point:
Margie is a single mom with two children, ages 7 and 10. She works for a medium-sized insurance company that was recently acquired by an insurance giant. Within one month of the acquisition, two departments were relocated some 800 miles away at the giant’s headquarters. While her department of thirty-five was kept in its original location, it was reorganized, and in the process eight jobs were eliminated.
Of course, the term reorganization was a euphemism. In reality, the staff was reduced by eight and the work redistributed among the remaining employees. Margie’s workload now increased significantly, making it impossible for her to leave each evening in time to cook dinner.
Margie feels afraid that if she doesn’t keep up with the new workload she might be terminated. She feels frustrated, too, when working late leaves the children to fend for themselves. She needs the income and is good at what she does, but there’s no indication that things will improve. She wonders if she should start “looking.”
In a nutshell, competitive pressure forces management to get more productivity from fewer people. While such efforts enhance profits, they also make for long, strenuous workdays that can drive conscientious workers into the ground. “I work half-days—12 hours!” is a jest heard in many offices.
How bad is it for you? Check out “Signs of Overwork” for a list of symptoms characteristic of overworked individuals. Put a checkmark before any of those that describe you. If you checked five or more of these items, you’re probably overworked—more than likely, your life is out of balance. It can be dangerous for your health and your close relationships, good reasons to examine downshifting possibilities.
SIGNS OF OVERWORK
___ My family complains about my absence at many evening meals.
___ I bring work home almost every weekend.
___ I have uncomfortable feelings about my strong work focus.
___ At work, I experience frustration about never seeming to get caught up.
___ I often feel best when I’m busy, whether it’s at work or home.
___ I call into work at least twice while away on vacation.
___ I postponed or changed my vacation dates at least once during the past year.
___ I’ve been quietly harboring a desire to work less and get off the treadmill.
___ I feel angry about all that my employer expects of me.
___ Those close to me often express displeasure about my being away so much on business trips.
___ I feel guilty when I leave work on time.
The Corporate Culture
The subtle influences that impact negatively on how we work are often unspoken. These stem from the corporate culture reflected in the example set by those above us. If, for instance, our boss comes in each Saturday morning, or works until seven every evening, these work patterns soon become the unspoken norm. No one in authority says that you must stay late or be present on Saturday morning, but you feel the pressure to do so. In some organizations, leaving early on the eve of a holiday is frowned upon. Whatever the unspoken pressures are in your organization, they will almost always reduce your freedom and increase the burden of your job.
Pressure to Make the Numbers
In many companies work becomes less tolerable because there is constant pressure to “make the numbers.” In these organizations, the implied threat is to make them or else. So everyone works hard to look good now. Never mind what negative implications current actions may have for the future. If you don’t look good now, you may have no future. As one plant manager said to me, “It’s phony and degrading—a helluva way to have to work.”
As consultant to a major food corporation, I can vividly recall stories about salespeople persuading friendly customers: “Order a carload now. You can cancel the order next week.” In this way, many sales managers met their regional quotas. But it was a house of cards, and there came a day some years later when it came tumbling down. The company’s stock value plummeted and another firm acquired them.
Pressure to Serve More Customers
e-Mail now makes it possible for workers to be in touch with far more people than ever before. In addition, with this instantaneous new tool each of your customers or contacts expects a more rapid response than in the days of typewriters and copy machines. Communicating with more people, each of whom expects an instant response, often leads to to-do lists that couldn’t be completed in an 80-hour workweek.
We have all heard about the exponential speed with which life around us is changing. This often translates into increased workplace pressure. Because change occurs so rapidly, we feel the need to be on top of things. This manifests itself in the need to be almost constantly in touch. Even when we choose not to check in, others take advantage of our accessibility and call us! You know the pressure to keep in touch has to be strong when golfers carry phones in their golf bags or when work-related calls are made or received during a family night out. As getting away from the job becomes more difficult, our freedom ebbs away.
Symptomatic of today’s go-go business world is the growing effort of advertisers to convince consumers that their products will help bring simplicity back to their lives. The Associated Press4 put it this way: “Use of the word simple in advertising may not be new, but marketers say it is becoming more prominent as Americans try to restore some calm to frenetic lifestyles.”
Overwhelming Work Burdens
Many individuals, especially those who work in corporate staff assignments or in the helping professions, find themselves in job situations in which an overwhelming number of tasks confront them. In most cases, they have no control over the workflow; it just keeps coming. Trying harder to keep up seems to attract more work, negating any progress they’ve made. Often, when extra effort is extended, no appreciation is expressed. If you are in a job such as this, you’re in a classic burnout situation. One seminar participant put it this way: “John, I’m so busy that I don’t have time even to think about, much less plan for, downshifting.”
All of these pressures, added to personal ones, can make life frenetic. We work faster, log more hours, eat at our desks, take work home, call in while on vacation, and still fear for our job. Are you angry about it? So are lots of others. You have a right to be upset. And anger isn’t the only consequence of work pressures. Fatigue, loneliness, and diminished intimacy with loved ones are also prices we pay. It doesn’t have to be that way.
That you want to make a change to get more enjoyment out of your personal life and work is natural and normal. Why wouldn’t anyone want more personal freedom to build closer family relationships, improve on health, reach out to others, and pursue activities they enjoy? Sound appealing? If so, come along and I’ll show you how to get off this crazy merry-go-round and live a little!
WHERE WE’VE BEEN / WHERE WE’RE GOING
This chapter discusses the many workplace forces that reduce our personal freedom and are beyond our control. It is unlikely they will go away. For this reason, it makes sense to take greater charge of your life. You can to alter the work demands that rob you of time and energy for family and friends, or for pursuing non-work activities. Given today’s work environment, it is altogether reasonable to seek some relief.
In the next two chapters, we’re going to explore some forces that could hinder your downshifting. It is important to understand these pressures so that you can identify the most constructive ways for overcoming them. After that, we’re on our way to taking some action steps!
Questions for Reflection
- What bothers me most about my current job and/or work climate?
- If I imagine myself, at 65 or 70, reflecting on my life, what would have been important and what would not? What do my conclusions tell me about planning my life, starting now?
- Have I shared my dissatisfactions about my current job situation with those I care about (and who care about me)? If not, why not? If yes, how did they react to my concerns? What does their reaction tell me about proceeding further?
- If I had more personal time available, what is one way I would spend it?
- How do I stop myself from setting limits on my work?
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