Ever feel like you’re not hearing the whole truth about the benefits of hard work?
In my (Tal) work as a therapist, I tend to hear things differently than other people. I spend almost as much time listening to what is not being said as I do to what is being said. Here’s a great example - when a client walks into my office, I start with very complex question; you know something along the lines of “How’s it going?”
When you ask that question, what are some of the top answers you receive? What is your quick, unedited response to that question? I can tell you that the most frequent answer I get is, “Man, I’m busy.” Is that how you would respond?
Busy is the new “fine.” Busy is the expected answer. Busy is also very often the truthful answer. But what is not being said? Usually, what is not being said is “I’m really stressed,” or “I’m just not able to be productive,” or “freaking out because my family is upset with me for not being at home,” or “I feel like I’m drowning.”
There is a false nobility in being busy, because to say you are not busy is the cultural equivalent of saying, “I’m really unimportant.” None of us want people to think that, so we say make sure we are busy, or at least that we look busy.
There’s a canyon between productive and busy.
‘Be The Hardest Worker In The Room’
I’ve noticed when counseling high impact leaders, that they often battle with the idea that they have to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. The idea is often, “I can’t ask my team to work any harder than I do.” Sometimes, the challenge there is that we fall for a faulty equation that says time equals hard work. That’s not necessarily so, though is it? Maybe you know that person who rules the office pop-in; they pop in your office hang out and talk about anything and everything but their work. They go down the hall doing this all day, but they are the last ones to leave. Why? Because they have been procrastinating all day.
Sometimes we want to look like the hardest worker in the room because we fear that is how promotion gets made. We don’t anyone to think we are lazy, or to make the joke when we are leaving at 5, “Hey, putting in a half-day today?”
The reality is that there is a point of diminishing returns with working too hard, or too much. It impacts our physical, emotional, mental and relational health. It can become a wrecking ball into every area of our lives, and at that point we are stuck on the treadmill with no vision as to how to get off of it, while simultaneously living in fear of face-planting on it as well. This is the very definition of unhealthy.
Health Over Hustle
Recently on our podcast, we spent four episodes talking about challenges that leaders face related to work. In our work as a therapist (Tal) and performance coach (Matt) with almost 40 years of combined ministry experience, we’ve become convinced that health rather than hustle is the best barometer of someone’s long-term success at work.
Now that we’re working with pastors and ministry leaders across the country and around the world, we’re thrilled to see the freedom, resilience, and hope that this different way of approaching work provides.
What does it look like choose health over hustle? Here’s a plan we put together for you.
How Healthy Leaders Work
Healthy leaders - leaders who lead at a high level for a long time - consistently make three critical decisions that shape their work: they establish boundaries; they set priorities; they fight to focus.
Boundaries provide clarity. On a map, state lines and city limits help you know where you are relative to where you want to be. For leaders, this means we need to establish boundaries around our work and inside of our work.
Let me explain.
Open up your calendar of choice. Odds are that you have a print or digital option that allows you to see an entire week at one time. Let me know when you get there.
Every week has 168 hours.
Conventional wisdom tells you that success comes on the basis of what you do with those hours. No one gets more hours than anyone else; what separates success from mediocrity is what you choose to do with your time.
Let’s agree with that and add an asterisk. What you do with your time is critical to your success. But - and here’s where healthy leaders and hustling leaders take different forks in the road - what conventional wisdom doesn’t tell you is that when it comes to working, the way forward involves choosing to limit rather than multiply your time.
Let me show you.
Healthy leaders sleep 7-9 hours per night and the healthiest leaders consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
How do they do it?
First, healthy leaders decide they are not a unicorn. The most common reason leaders don’t get enough sleep is because they don’t believe they need it. Science looks at them and laughs. Say it with me, “I need 7-9 hours of sleep every night.”
Second, healthy leaders quit giving themselves the benefit of the doubt. In the absence of data, I will convince myself and swear to others that I get more sleep than I do. Nothing has done more for my increased sleep (I used to average 4-5 hours per night) than the sleep tracker on my Fitbit.
Third, healthy leaders declare when they are going to bed and getting up. They open up their calendar and add the time when they plan to be asleep. They ask their spouse or a friend to help them follow through.
Fourth, healthy leaders prepare to sleep well. They start to get ready for bed an hour before they turn out the lights. They create an environment conducive to good sleep (cool and dark room, loose sleepwear, etc.).
One of the gifts that Judeo-Christian ethics gives to the world is the principle of sabbath - setting aside one day from work to pray and to play. If sleep creates one set of boundaries around work, sabbath reinforces the power of limitation by reminding us that we were made to work six days a week, not seven.
While the concept of Sabbath is familiar to most church leaders, there is often a gap between our awareness and action. If you want to thrive as a leader, follow the practices laid out above related to sleep to help you enjoy sabbath every week.
For me (Matt), Sabbath takes place from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. During that time, I exchange my work as a pastor and coach for a kind of rest that can only be experienced through an extended time of praying and playing.
Schedule time with family
Hustling leaders tend to neglect their family. Time with spouse and children is often scattered, if not sparse, and everyone knows why: work comes first. Rhetoric to the contrary flies in the face of decades of therapy and pastoral counseling.
Healthy leaders schedule time with their family. They are honest about their tendency to put work before family. They are aware of habits the prioritize their own needs before the needs of those that they love most. They are willing to admit that if it isn’t planned, it probably won’t happen.
Two practices we encourage are family nights and one-on-ones with each member of your immediate family. I (Matt) make this part of our family’s rhythm of Sabbath. Friday nights are family fun nights - we watch movies, play board games, go to the pool during the summer. On Saturdays, I spend one-on-one time with each of my three sons. Lindsey and I spend time together on Friday nights after the boys go to bed, reconnecting after the craziness that makes up the rest of our week.
Schedule time to work
Hustling leaders are always working. Healthy leaders choose when to start and stop their work.
One of the silly myths of pastoral work is that the pastor must always be available for people. There is no biblical warrant for such practice; in fact, texts such as Ephesians 4 carves a different path encouraging pastors to leverage their gifts to raise up others to join them in the particular work of caring for people’s souls.
That calendar in front of you? Use it to help you choose when to start and stop your work.
How many hours should you work each week? Assuming that you work ‘full-time’ in a church, here’s my (Matt) formula. Take the number of hours your church considers to be full-time and add in the maximum number of hours you expect volunteers to serve each week in your church.
In the church I help lead, we consider 40 hours a week to be full-time and we expect volunteers to serve for 5 hours or less each week. So, 40 hours + 5 hours = 45 hours. That’s how many hours that I work each week. Beyond that, everyone suffers - my family suffers, my church suffers because I don’t give them great work and others who could/should be doing that work are cut out because of my selfishness, and I suffer because I’m cutting corners in other parts of life.
Healthy leaders establish boundaries around work. We know when we’re working and when we’re not working because we’re sleeping, spending time with family or enjoying sabbath. Now let’s talk about the boundaries we establish inside of our work by setting priorities about the work we do each day.
All work is not equally valuable. Without a method to prioritize tasks and projects, we are often left to the whims of external demands or internal preferences. The result is work that doesn’t make the most out of our day, even though we’re working hard.
So here’s the question: how do I organize my work to get the most out of my day?
Dwight Eisenhower served as the 34th President of the United States, as well as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II. To help him answer the question above, he developed a method called the Eisenhower Matrix.
Here’s how the matrix works:
Create a task list
What are the tasks or projects you need to complete at work? From the unimportant to the critical, from the urgent to the stuff no one’s paying attention to, take 5-10 minutes and build your list.
Do this now
Go through your list and mark every task that is both urgent (must be done today) and important (based on your job description) by writing ‘DO’ next to the task. These tasks are what you will work on first today.
These tasks can often be an effect of not being planned or prepared for. Is there anything you can add to your schedule to prevent ‘deadline emergencies’ from reoccurring?
Do this later
Go through your list and mark every task that is not urgent (it doesn’t have to be done today) but it is important (based on your job description) by writing ‘DECIDE’ next to the task. These tasks will be scheduled on your calendar for a later date.
These tasks tend to be the most significant work that you do. For preachers, this is the place where sermon preparation should go. It won’t be urgent until Sunday but it is vitally important, so get it into your calendar if you’re not working on it today.
Got through your list and mark every task that is urgent (must be done today) but not important (based on your job description) by writing ‘DELEGATE’ next to the task. These are tasks that should be delegated, outsourced or systemized.
These tasks are low hanging fruit so work to either get them off your plate or create a system in your day to ONLY check in on them twice (i.e., check email at 10 am and 4 pm daily).
Go through your list and mark every task that is neither urgent (it doesn’t have to be done today) nor important (based on your job description) by writing ‘DELETE’ next to the task. These are tasks that should be deleted, avoided or postponed until later.
When you create space in your day from these tasks, fill that time with the ‘Do This Later’ tasks.
This entire process of creating and sorting a task list typically takes less than 15 minutes but that small investment of time will revolutionize how you go about getting work done every day.
So now you have a good idea of what you’re going to work on today. But you need to know that a minefield of distractions lies in wait for you. If you don’t focus on the work ahead, you’ll end up wasting time and wasting the day.
Based on the task and time available, choose one of four periods of time to work on a particular task:
- One Hour
Make sure to schedule the appropriate time in your calendar. Avoid the temptation to choose the largest amount of time available to complete a task. One helpful way to focus is to force yourself to complete a task in a shorter amount of time.
Now that you know how long you’ll be working on this task, let’s make sure you spend that time on the actual task. Because of the pervasive nature of distractions, adopt the Pomodoro Technique to help you focus.
There are variations of Pomodoro, but the basic concept is that you’ll work without distraction for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. At the end of the third 25 minute period, you take a longer break (between 20-30 minutes). There are a number of apps that you can download on your phone that use a timer to keep up with the Pomodoro rhythm.
Do The Next Right Thing
If you want to be successful, choose health over hustle. Hustling leaders create short-term wins in one part of life at the expense of their long-term health in every part of life. Healthy leaders sacrifice short-term wins in one part of life for the sake of their long-term health in every part of life.
Our goal in this article is to draw your attention to a different way of doing work and to help you grow awareness and develop a plan of action. What lies ahead is up to you but we want to encourage you that ideas mean practically nothing until they’re converted into action.
Oh, and if you understand and are already building your work life on these foundational principles of boundaries, priorities, and focus, you might consider investing in our course on productivity.
The Choice Is Yours
Back to this fork in the road between doing something or doing nothing. On one of our podcast episodes, we discussed five questions designed to help you diagnose whether or not your work habits are healthy.
Take a look at them and give a gut reaction answer:
- Do you get more excited about work than your family or anything else?
- Do you take work with you to bed, into the weekend and/or on vacation?
- Do you believe it’s ok to work long hours if you love your work?
- Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop working to do something else?
- Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, we encourage you to have an honest conversation with someone you trust. Based on our own struggle and experience as a therapist and coach, we recognize these as symptoms of work addiction.
We don’t play around with a word like ‘addiction’ so if we’re using it that means that it’s something we take seriously. So please don’t blow this off or hide from the reality that you can see inside your head and heart that is creeping into more and more of your life.
The good news is that there is a way to do work that gives us the best opportunity to thrive in every part of life. Choose health over hustle. Embrace the limitations of boundaries. Trust in the priorities you set. Focus on what matters most at any given time in your day.