The more you can accomplish the better, right? We, here at Inc, spend a lot of time telling you how to be more productive. Jeff Haden gives us 3 Secrets to Extreme Productivity, while Jessica Stillman tells us The World's Easiset Way to Be More Productive. They aren't the only ones: a search on Inc.com brings up everything from brainstorming tips for productivity to the psychology behind increasing your productivity. All this talk of productivity is good, of course. We want to make the best of the time we have. Tips and tricks can make a world of difference in what we accomplish in a given day. But, what if it goes too far?
Can you be too productive? The instinct is to say, "No. If I can be more productive, then I want to do that." If you can accomplish more in the same amount of time that you used to do less, that's fantastic. When you start needing more time to increase your productivity, that can result in serious problems. Here are some of the downsides to super productivity.
Continued expectations. So, you put in 80 hours a week for 6 months and your nerves are shot and your children don't recognize you any more. You decide it's time to scale back and work a more reasonable schedule. The problem? Suddenly the amount of work you do in a week plummets and instead of your boss saying, "Oh, I'm so glad that Jane is working on her work-life balance!" she says, "Jane is only doing 2/3 of what she used to do. Jane is a slacker."
Even though you're still doing more than your co-workers, you're doing less than you used to and it makes you look bad. I realize this sounds suspciously like advice to always be a slacker so people are impressed when you're not, but it's more a reality check. Can you sustain your work level? If not (and the increased work level isn't due to definitely ending project), you probably should scale back sooner rather than later.
Family life suffers. Have you done a conference call while in line for a theme park ride? I have. Have you sent work emails while on the ski lift? My husband has (I don't ski). Talk about using time productively! Nothing is more boring than standing in line waiting for the best ride of the day, so might as well use that time productively? The only problem is that there was a child next to us in these situations. Was the email worth it? The call? Maybe. Sometimes it is, but often, you're sacrificing your family time to the God of productivity.
No time for creativity. When you're constantly working, you have no time for your brain to relax-and that relaxation is critical for creativity. If you're go, go, going all the time, your brain can't draw the connections needed to come up with something new. Anyone can follow check lists, it's coming up with new things that will set you ahead of the pack.
Death. Of course, this won't happen to you, will it? The New York Times recently reported on a couple of people who died as a direct result of too much productivity-that is, they were working too hard. One was a 21 year old intern whose official cause of death was epilepsy, but death came after pulling 3 consecutive all nighters. No telling what he accomplished in those days leading up to his death, but whatever it was, it wasn't worth it.
Death is, of course, an extreme consequence of working too hard, but it's one you shouldn't dismiss out of hand. How many people have died in car accidents because they were so tired they couldn't stay awake behind the wheel? This affects not only the super hard worker, but others on the road as well.
Stop demanding extreme productivity of your employees. One of the problems Startups face is that senior team is heavily financially and emotionally invested in the company. That can cause you to push when you shouldn't push. You don't want your employees to burn out and you want to keep them productive and happy during working hours, so demand a reasonable workload and everyone will be better off.