Death by Overwork

death by overwork

Karoshi is a Japanese term that means “death by overwork.” It’s true. But read on first.

We’ve all known someone who collected of stuff in his garage. Always parked his car outside because he had no space. Eventually, he built a second garage for his car. Of course, over time he filled the second garage with more “junk,” too.

This kind of thing also happens with time management tools — those gadgets and widgets we use to help us get stuff done faster and more efficiently. Before long, those saved hours fill up with more tasks. What do we do? We build a “second garage” out of more apps and widgets. And we then shove extra tasks into our evenings and weekends.Take a break. Where’s your “finish line?” What’s your destination? Many of us have never stopped long enough to define what success means to us. But that definition of success is a goal everyone should have.

A 2013 study by the Center for Creative Leadership, called “Always On, Never Done” shows that professionals who use smartphones for work end up working about 72 hours a week. Now, if you absolutely love what you do and work is an integral part of your life, I say go for it — as long as you’re not burning out. But here’s the thing: That same study showed companies use “technology and the ‘always on’ expectations of professionals … to mask poor processes, indecision, dysfunctional cultures, and subpar infrastructure because they know that everyone will pick up the slack.”

In other words, smartphones become a way to hold more meetings; play it safe by CC’ing everyone; and keep people waiting until the last minute because you can’t make a decision.

Not only is that an awful time-management practice, it’s a prescription to die by karoshi — death by overwork — an official word coined in Japan in the ’70s.

According to Overload!, a book by Jonathan B. Spira, 120,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are work-stress related. Compare that to

  • 39,773 total gun deaths (Pew Research)
  • 88,000 alcohol-related deaths (NIH); and
  • 480,000 smoking-related deaths per year (CDC).

This puts perspective on the direction we’re going with time management. If you are successful, true productivity should give you two things:

  • Freedom to focus
  • Freedom to do nothing

I love both. So here’s a tip from my book … Have three types of to-do lists — all on paper or in an app (I use Microsoft To-Do):

  • Stuff that you just need to get done and allotted time frame (grocery shopping, dry cleaning).
  • A to-do list in which each item ties into your Goals. No exceptions.
  • A critical Today list, drawn from #2. This will be your daily “must get done” list.

No goals? It’s time to re-evaluate. Having goals, in itself, will save time and reduce stress. But make sure those goals are truly your goals — not your parents’, and not something taken from a book that claims to know which goals are needed to achieve success. They must come from you, from within — otherwise, you won’t be inspired.

Achieving Goals = Happiness

I have my own set of goals that I believe are critical to my productivity, success and happiness, and I review them every morning. That’s the kind of commitment I want you to bring to revitalizing your productivity and quality of life. And remember: Your goals are not your to-do lists. Your “to-dos” are derived from your goals.

Average people think goals are optional. They play it safe because they fear failure. If you are still reading this, you are not average.

Fewer than 5% of people have clearly defined, written goals. Fewer than 1% can define their primary goal and objective in life. Having goals is one of the best ways to avoid adding busywork that doesn’t matter… and it’s that busywork that eats away your hours and years and leads to death by overwork.

Turn off the smartphone. Focus on your goals.

That’s how you make it to the top.

PS: My dad (read “He Died Tomorrow”), a doctor, once told me, “Son, stress is more dangerous than smoking.” I believe him.

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