Don't Worry; Work Will Wait for You
It is somewhat bewildering to me the number of leaders who simultaneously brag and complain about their immense workload. I like to call such an attitude bragplaining. These bragplainers claim they do not wish to work late into the night or over the weekend, but their crushing amount of work makes these work hours imperative.
These leaders imply, if not outright state, that their work is so important, so essential that it cannot wait a few hours or a few days. The vast majority of time, they are wrong. The work might be important and it might be time sensitive, but it is rarely so critical that it needs to be done right now.
Many times, the bragplainer wants to be seen as so important that she must work insane hours. The leader believes that these hours are a badge of honor which is why she brags about them. However, a good leader must realize that the drive to work so long too often leads to bad results for both the leader and her team.
Every person needs down time, even, and perhaps especially, leaders. Downtime allows the leader to rest, rejuvenate, and return at top form. Downtime gives the brain a chance to consolidate inputs and see connections that can drive strategic, rather than ad hoc, responses to situations. In short, it allows the leader to see more of the forest. In contrast, constant working lends us to seeing a tree or two. Finally, downtime allows a leader to be healthy. We all need to find time for exercise, sleep, social and spiritual replenishment. Being healthy allows us to manage stress, live longer and contribute to our company more effectively.
A leader who works deep into the night and over weekends is also bad for her team. First, she sets an unhealthy and unsustainable model for her team. A good leader wants a well-rested and alert team and she must model that behavior. Second, the team will wonder about the leader’s ability if she cannot get her work done in a reasonable amount of time. It sends the message that either the leader is inefficient, or the company does not value its people. Neither is a good message.
This is not to say that there will be an occasional time when people will have to work long hours, but these times should be rare.
One of life’s realities is that our inbox will never be empty. One of the jobs of a leader (or any worker) is to prioritize what needs to be done, what can wait, and what can be delegated to others. It is not to try to empty her inbox. This prioritization should allow the leader to work less outside of work hours.
To remind myself that much of my work could wait, I had a canned response when I was asked how I could go home without work. I always replied that in my experience no one else will do the work for me, so it will be waiting when I return to the office. And every time it was.
However, leaving the work on my desk for a while has another important benefit. A leader I respect once commented that when he leaves for the weekend, there are often four to five emergencies on his desk. However, when he returns to work on Monday he discovers that usually all of the “emergencies” have lost their urgency and magically transformed into everyday tasks. In the heat of a day, it is difficult to realize that most things are not emergencies but can wait a day or two before they are addressed.