Saturday, June 25, 2022

MACKAY: Don't get worked up over being overworked

| October 10, 2021 1:00 AM

Because of a big project deadline, some employees had been asked to work double shifts for a few days.

"That's it, I'm going home," one employee said to his colleague.

"But there are three more hours left in our shift," the co-worker replied.

"Well, I'm exhausted now. Come to think of it, I'll take tomorrow off, too. Watch this," the worker said as he grabbed a lampshade and covered his head with it and stood atop a ladder in the center of the room.

The manager walked in, gasped, and said, "What on earth are you doing up there?"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm a lightbulb," the worker replied.

"Good grief," the manager said. "You've worked so long you've gone mad. Come down from there and then take the rest of the day off. While you're at it, take tomorrow off, too."

The worker descended the ladder and began to walk away with the lampshade still on his head. His colleague decided to follow him out.

"Just where do you think you're going?" asked the manager.

"I'm taking the rest of the day off, too," the co-worker replied. "I can't work in the dark."

We've all felt overworked at some point in our lives. The 40-hour workweek certainly isn't standard in the United States. In fact, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics chart indicates the average American works 44 hours a week. A Gallup poll I found listed it as 47 hours a week.

Extra hours don't necessarily translate to more productivity. In fact, you might even feel overworked if you work less than 40 hours a week. Feeling overworked can lead to exhaustion, stress, anxiety, irritability, burnout, lack of sleep, poor health, absenteeism, turnover, workplace conflicts — and psychiatric problems like thinking you're a lightbulb.

I remember one time when I was making a speech, and I asked the audience for a show of hands if they felt overworked. Just about everyone raised their hand. WOW! I wasn't expecting that.

Employers are finding that productivity is up among staff who are working remotely these days. That trend looks like it will continue into the foreseeable future, especially if it means that employees are more satisfied with their jobs and work schedules.

Regardless of location, all of us have occasionally felt overworked and overwhelmed. Busy times at work, big projects with short deadlines, unfilled positions that leave the company short-staffed — these are common reasons for extra pressure.

Getting more organized, adopting better time-management practices and delegating small tasks to others are helpful strategies to combat burnout. Maybe a lot of bad habits have crept into your daily routine, such as visiting too much with co-workers, spending too much time on the internet or doing personal tasks.

Stop procrastinating. Do the things you don't want to do first thing in the morning. Plan ahead and have a set daily, weekly and monthly schedule of the projects you need to tackle. Don't be afraid to say no. Saying no is not the same as saying never. It's an acknowledgment that you respect yourself as well as the person doing the asking. Believe me, it won't stop them from asking again!

Is everything you do necessary, or is some of it just busywork? Strive to become more productive. Set boundaries. Be respectful of others' time, and they should be respectful of yours.

I realize not everyone can do all these things all the time, and there will always be hectic days or weeks. But you can prepare for hectic times and minimize their negative effects with the right attitude.

But let's not ignore the possibility that you are in a position where your job truly is too much for any one person. Wearing many hats or juggling a ridiculous number of responsibilities with little or no support is beyond being overworked. If your situation demands that you produce the work of two or more people — unless you actually own the business — you need to get your resume updated. Being taken advantage of can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health.

Otherwise, you will be repeating this choice anonymous bit of sarcasm: "We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much with so little for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."

Mackay's Moral: The problem with work is that it is so daily.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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