Less Is More: Overworking Doesn’t Lead to Higher Performance

Workaholics don’t always make the best executives. Sometimes as more responsibility gets piled on, they morph into a time-management mess without the person realizing it. Working smart doesn’t mean working more; it means working well, according to psychiatrist and executive coach Dr. Joseph Siegler.

“There’s a pressure on people to work harder and smarter, and there are less people to do what a lot of people used to do,” Siegler said. “You have to be priority focused or you burn out.”

Burning out can be a common problem for executives or entrepreneurs who let work time creep into the rest of their life. High performance necessitates a good balance between work life and personal life, and if President Obama has time to exercise or vacation, so should any CEO, executive or middle manager, Siegler said.

The issue often begins with the lack of a time management system, according to Siegler. His company, Spheres Peak Performance Consulting, is hired by organizations to help executives with productivity issues identify their target areas and increase performance. With what he claims is a 95 to 100 percent success rate, he helps employees structure their day for productivity and efficiency. His goal is to help peak performers reach “Olympic” levels without burning out. Siegler shared some of his best practices for developing a system that allows an employee to work smarter instead of longer.

1. A Goal-Oriented System

Siegler said a key to peak performance is defining specific goals. Often in addressing work issues, people spend a lot of time trying to answer the “whys”: “Why am I so disorganized? Why am I stressed? Why can’t I get my work done on time?” For his practice, the why is less important than defining the goals, the “what next?” While the whys may give a clue to the origins of issues, the desired result is change, so discussing daily, weekly and monthly goals is more effective to achieving peak performance.

“Why are there piles on your desk? Maybe it’s partly genetic, maybe it’s the way you were raised, but the point is your boss is asking for clean surfaces,” Siegler said. He said shifting the focus to what an employee wants to accomplish can reduce anxiety about the lack of time and amount of work.

2. Clarity and Transparency

A time management plan doesn’t profit anybody if it’s vague and muddled. An employee has to define the vision of what’s going to make him or her more organized, which differs for each profession and position.

“That’s the fun part; it’s like a puzzle. You have to solve what the client’s daily priorities should be,” Siegler said. “What’s the next thing I have to do and how much time do I have to spend on it?”

Defining how much time each task will take lightens the load of indecision and helps executives resist the temptation to change their schedule. Once these daily priorities are defined, Siegler shares them with the employee’s superiors and team, which gives them a sense of accountability. Both parties know what is expected and how it is going to get done.

3. Sticking With the Plan

Siegler said defining goals and allotting time to them doesn’t necessarily change a person’s work life overnight. It takes time and persistence.

“The most common problem is that people don’t create a ritual of the change,” Siegler said. After developing a system, people have to put it into practice daily. Running through their plan shouldn’t take more than five minutes, but employees should do it every day for it to be effective. Siegler said a person’s mentality has a lot to do with the success.

“Some people wait for their boss or their coach to stop paying attention and then stop doing it.” If a plan is not working, Siegler said it means back to the drawing board.

“We look at if something can be eliminated, what can be delegated, what can be a weekly task instead of a daily priority,” Siegler said.

Assuaging Anxiety

While the goal is to achieve performance, Siegler said that often a time-management plan lowers the anxiety that inhibits productivity.

“They just stop feeling as anxious; they learn how to laugh about it and sometimes they implement these practices with their whole team,” Siegler said.

Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.